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Censorship Communications Your Rights Online

AT&T Silences Criticism in New Terms of Service 298

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the say-no-evil dept.
marco13185 writes "AT&T's new Terms of Service give AT&T the right to suspend your account and all service "for conduct that AT&T believes"..."(c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries." After cooperating with the government's violations of privacy and liberties, I guess AT&T wants their fair share. AT&T users may want to think twice about commenting if they value their internet service."
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AT&T Silences Criticism in New Terms of Service

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  • by ph4s3 (634087) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:12AM (#20792755)
    ...your ISP does not have the right to censor you or limit your access based on what you have to say so long as it conforms to any applicable laws.
  • by YojimboJango (978350) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:17AM (#20792797)
    That reminds me of the modem rebate crap that I just had to go through with AT&T last week. Since the special rebate sticker that i'm supposed to affix to a postcard was accidentally left out of the box I have to request one by phone. Unfortunately the tech told me that there was nothing that she could do until my account had been with AT&T for at least 3 months. Something about a grace period to make sure that I'm not just signing up for service to get their crappy dsl modem for free after rebate.
    So to get this rebate I have to wait 3 months, call AT&T customer support then wait an additional 3 to 4 months for the rebate to arrive. Thats seven whole months before they have to give the rebate back. And you know what would suck even more? If they canceled my service I wouldn't ever get [error: connection to host lost]
  • by Conspicuous Coward (938979) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:26AM (#20792839)

    .. why give them your money?

    I don't live in the states, but aren't they the sole provider in many areas?

    Something needs to be done to stop the growing trend of laundry-list TOS agreements that amount to "we can kick you off our network any time we damn well feel like it"; aren't there laws about unfair clauses in these kinds of contracts.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:28AM (#20792845) Homepage

    AT&T cooperates in wholesale spying on the American public without a warrant, then goes back to Congress and asks for immunity from lawsuits. Now they slip a "no criticize" clause in their user agreement. Reminds me of Microsoft, only worse. When did dickish corporate behavior become the new standard? I must have missed that memo.

    The interesting question is whether corporate behavior is just a more visible mirror of the increasing lack of civility in every day relationships? Because when I think back to times when even corporations still behaved with a modicum of civility and tended to err on the side of the customer, I realized that the general level of decency at all levels of interaction was higher.

    When it comes to AT&T a whole new generation is learning why we broke them up in the first place.

  • by Qzukk (229616) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:28AM (#20792849) Journal
    why give them your money?

    Oh right, we busted up the phone monopoly decades ago, now if you don't like your phone service, YOU CAN MOVE TO ANOTHER FUCKING STATE.

    But hey, if they cancel my service over this, I can demand phone service back thanks to their franchise contract and universal access laws. If they charge me to turn it back on, I'll have the city council going over that contract to see what can be done about getting some real competition in here.
  • Maybe NOT! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by redelm (54142) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:32AM (#20792871) Homepage
    Yes, this _sounds_ bad. But perhaps is is more aimed at net nuisances such as spammers and botnets. Those certainly harm the name of AT&T. Could get its' domains blacklisted. Still, AT&T has no shortage of highly-paid lawyers. They ought to have developed less-inflammatory wording.

    As a practical matter, I would expect to see these terms on business accounts (where free speech is arguable) and less on home accounts (where it is not).

  • No, they shouldn't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:39AM (#20792907)
    AT&T users may want to think twice about commenting if they value their internet service."

    No, they shouldn't. There are worse things in life than loosing your Internet service, and I expect this to stand up neither in Courts of Law, nor in the Court of Public Opinion.
  • I don't like it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bwcbwc (601780) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:42AM (#20792931)
    But my choices for high speed internet are pretty much limited to Comcast and AT&T (BellSouth). So it's really a question of which evil empire I'm more "comfortable" with or am locked into by service agreements.
  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:01AM (#20793051) Homepage Journal

    .. why give them your money? Stupid is as stupid does

    The bigger picture is that this is yet another one of those corporate slippery slopes.

    • At one time there was a first broadcaster to watermark their logo on every TV show you watch. Now they all do it.
    • Some intrepid lawyer at a credit card company thought it would be a good idea to include terms for binding arbitration in every customer contract. Now they all do it.
    • Once upon a time you could go to a movie theater without being bombarded by fuggin' Pepsi ads. Now they all do it.

    The technique is straightforward. A huge company with vast legal resources will create terms of contract that are annoying, but just a little bit less annoying than the transaction cost of replacing that company with another one. They've annoyed you, but like a frog being boiled in water, you figure you can live with it. Pretty soon all of the company's competitors are doing the same thing, and now you have no other recourse, even if you wanted to go through the time, expense, and hassle of switching.

  • by SnapShot (171582) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:08AM (#20793093)
    I was just hoping that this applied to AT&T's wireless service; it sounds like the perfect "get out of your 2 year contract free" scheme.
  • As an AT&T user... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:09AM (#20793097)
    AT&T still blows.

    Posting from an AT&T connection, shut down my service if you want to guys!
  • by Joe U (443617) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:12AM (#20793113) Homepage Journal
    Like most poorly thought out policies, what they mean, what they do and what they say are all different. It still might be enough to get a lawsuit into court.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:13AM (#20793115)
    In Libertopia there will be three cable providers for every municipality, and they'll offer the same policies and fees because competition is just too hard. If you don't like it you can become a billionaire and buy your own cable franchise. Don't like it? Then you must hate Thomas Jefferson, and therefore you hate the United States. Why do you hate America, Statist?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:16AM (#20793131)
    You should probably watch this ( http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2004785759717366066 [google.com] ) if you think that Ma Bell is still busted up.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:15AM (#20793499) Homepage
    Here's how I ab/use my own power as an IT professional.

    People look to me for advice on any range of technical issues. While I rarely, if ever, say "don't do this" I will state factual reasons not to do something. For example: iPhone -- you cannot change your own batteries. I don't say "it's 'restrictive'" or limiting or anything people will not understand. I will tell them things they can easily identify with.

    So in this case, I would say, "according to AT&T's TOS, you're not allowed to publicly complain about the quality of your service or the size of your bill!" "Not allowed to complain" is something that will register with anyone. So I plan to just tell people... with AT&T, you lose your right to complain. That will strike HARD against the consumer's heart.
  • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@ear ... t ['hli' in gap]> on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:15AM (#20793501)
    Not too paranoid.

    When that language is included, somebody's going to use it. I'll agree that lawyers tend to push the bounds, but here we're talking about the company that once said "We're the phone company. We don't HAVE to care."*

    * Admittedly, this was before the prior breakup...but you'll notice that that's been undone, and now they have less regulation.
  • Yes, it is bad... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gillbates (106458) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:21AM (#20793559) Homepage Journal

    If history has taught us anything, it is that companies - regardless of original intent - always construe the meaning of contracts in the manner most advantageous to the company.

    This clause may not be intended to be enforced against individual users, but as soon as a customer becomes critical of AT&T and starts costing them money, the company lawyers will find this clause and silence them.

  • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:45AM (#20793729) Homepage
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Another trend I've noticed is people for some reason keep criticizing Bush, Cheney, and the various other people who run this country. And yet they *still live here! Hopefully Patriot Act 2.0 will take care of this problem.

    (/sarcasm)

    How does your line of reasoning deal with the "or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries" language? If you continue using AT&T "service" you obviously shouldn't be allowed to express negative things about any of the other companies they do business with.
  • by Original Replica (908688) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:58AM (#20793811) Journal
    this isn't "censoring" in the common carrier terminology. They are shutting down accounts,

    So in an area where they have the only service available they are silencing their critics, how is that not censoring? Isn't part of the common carrier status a requirement to not deny service to someone because of stated ideological/political beliefs? My political beliefs include ideals about how global companies should act, and thus should be protected speech in the common carrier sense.
  • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @12:12PM (#20793893)
    That is why every monopoly that ever existed in the world did so with the assistance of the state.

    That's just insanity in the guise of an authoritative-sounding quote. How did the "state" give Microsoft its monopoly power to force PC vendors not to carry competitors' OS products?
  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @01:20PM (#20794427)
    The whole sketch:

    "We handle eighty-four billion calls a year. Serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth. We realize that every so often you can't get an operator, for no apparent reason your phone goes out of order, or perhaps you get charged for a call you didn't make.

    We don't care.

    Watch this.. [ she hits buttons maniacally ] ..just lost Peoria.

    You see, this phone system consists of a multibillion-dollar matrix of space age technology that is so sophisticated, even we can't handle it. But that's your problem, isn't it? Next time you complain about your phone service, why don't you try using two Dixie cups with a string?

    We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."


    The scary thing is that Lily Tomlin pretty much nailed it. It's a lot less funny knowing they're *really* like that.
  • by LocalH (28506) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @01:28PM (#20794487) Homepage
    Political speech? You're sorely, sorely mistaken. Next time try actually reading the words of the first amendment and not taking what some loony tells you at face value.
  • by letxa2000 (215841) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @02:39PM (#20794949)

    The legalese being quoted ((c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.) is usually a generic catch-all used by web hosting providers and ISP so that they can protect their name based on misuse of their service. Usually, this would include things like launching DoS's, spamming, phishing, hacking, etc. If enough people to do this from their network, it does damage the name or reputation of AT&T and they could easily end up on blacklists, and AT&T could be popularly associated with those activities because of some kind of implicit tolerance. That catch-all clause allows them to shut things like this down.

    Yes, that clause could be interpreted as giving them the right to shut you down if you speak out against AT&T. But is there any evidence whatsoever that that has actually been done?

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @02:45PM (#20795009)
    "Any right given by the constitution ..."


    The Constitution gives you no rights. The founding fathers clearly state that your rights inalienable [wikipedia.org]. The Constitution is there to limit government and protect you from the government.

  • by Jacked (785403) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @03:21PM (#20795227)
    So in an area where they have the only service available they are silencing their critics, how is that not censoring?

    Because they still aren't preventing you from speaking out. If you want to criticize them, you can tell your neighbor, call your mom, publish an editorial, post on your blog, etc.

    The right to free speech does not include the right to a vehicle for your speech.

    As for the rest of your comments, I don't know enough about it to agree or refute. However, I can certainly understand why a company wouldn't want to help someone that is actively trying to harm the company. Why would they? In most cases businesses have the right to refuse service to anyone, though I admit AT&T may not have that same right due to the nature of their business.

  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @06:33PM (#20796543) Journal

    I agree... but mainly because the internet is as ubiquitous and as predominant a means of communications as is the telephone. Therefore the internet should be considered one of those vehicles. And the ISPs are merely a vehicle to connect to the internet so should have no right to determine what and what not a person is allowed to say. Especially with the near monopoly that AT&T has. However, they achieved the near monopoly by way of lobbying and vote buying (pretty much the same thing). They will probably use that tactic to get what they want in this case as well.

    As far a monopoly goes... look at this post to this topic [slashdot.org] if you haven't seen it already... It is both funny and disturbing.

  • Am I wrong (Score:3, Insightful)

    by davetd02 (212006) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @07:23PM (#20796911)
    I disagree with how the parent (and OP) read the provision. The use of "conduct" says to me that the provision is so that they can cut off users who are taking actions that make AT&T look bad by association. For example, if a user were to host the NAMBLA website via an AT&T line. If somebody came along and alleged "AT&T is hosting NAMBLA, therefore AT&T supports NAMBLA" then AT&T would get to cut off the account. Of course you and I know as /. readers that hosting a website doesn't imply endorsement of it, but to the 80% of the country that doesn't read /. they might think that AT&T was somehow directly involved.

    There are reasons to be concerned about AT&T retaining a veto over actions of that type, but it's very different from AT&T silencing criticism about its own service. Being paranoid about guilt-by-association in a contract that we've never even seen used to actually cut somebody off is a far cry from silencing those who would fairly disagree.

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