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AT&T Advertising Privacy

How To Stop AT&T From Selling Your Private Data To Advertisers 88

Posted by Soulskill
from the step-one-don't-let-them-have-any-private-data dept.
An anonymous reader writes "AT&T is ready to follow in its rivals' footsteps and begin selling the private usage data it collects from its subscribers' phones to advertisers. The data in question is anonymized, according to AT&T, but it includes very sensitive information such as customers' locations, Web browsing history, mobile app usage and more. Privacy is something of a hot button issue right now, so it is likely that a number of AT&T subscribers would prefer to not have their private data sold to advertisers. Luckily, there is a fast and easy way to opt out of AT&T's 'External Marketing and Analytics Reporting' program."
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How To Stop AT&T From Selling Your Private Data To Advertisers

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    perhaps the customers should sue to get their property returned

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, this is /was going on. [startribune.com]

      I found that trying to find an article from the 90's (I think it was in the WSJ) about one man who tried to do just that - sue to get his personal information from the marketing firms - I think his strategy was to sue for monetary damages. IIRC/

      The marketing people say that an individual's information isn't worth much but a list of thousands or millions of people is worth quite a bit.

      Anyway, it's 2013 and the marketing industry (personal data industry) is as big and strong as ev

    • Read the contract. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by csumpi (2258986) on Saturday July 06, 2013 @08:24PM (#44206581)
      I'm pretty sure some of the tiny letter stuff on your contract says that by signing the contract you give them full permission to do whatever they want with all the data they collect from you.
      • by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya&gmail,com> on Saturday July 06, 2013 @09:48PM (#44206945)

        I'm pretty sure some of the tiny letter stuff on your contract says that by signing the contract you give them full permission to do whatever they want with all the data they collect from you.

        It gets better!

        Somewhere in that contract you also sign away your right to sue them (particularly AT&T, I believe it was a lawsuit against them that legalized mandatory arbitration clause).
        So... what you can do is to complain to an arbitrator employed by AT&T and see whether he/she rules for you or not.

        • by bleh-of-the-huns (17740) on Saturday July 06, 2013 @11:51PM (#44207357)

          You can still sue AT&T, or any other company that forces arbitration. The only thing it does it prevent users from joining class action suits.

        • Complaining will avail you nothing. Ditto, the link referenced in TFS which just points the user to an "opt-out" page which will probably be just about as effective as those handy "unsubscribe" links you get in all that spam email. The only way you can stop your ISP from selling your data is to (attempt to) prevent them from having it in the first place. In other words, tunnel through a VPN and make sure you block any trackers you come across along the way.
      • by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday July 06, 2013 @09:58PM (#44206975) Journal

        Yep I'm sure they got you by the balls with the fine print which is why I said screw all the bullshit and just went prepaid.

        You can get the Walmart android phone for less than $100 with the "unlimited" card (yes i know their unlimited starts slowing you down between 3-5GB,I'm not gonna do that much on a dang phone,that's what the netbook and desktop are for) and if they try jacking me around? Screw 'em, plenty of other pre-paid bunches out there, no contract means they don't have me by the short hairs anymore and so far the service has been great,I'm loving it.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947)

          What does that 3-5GB cost you per month? I don't think I've ever used more than 2GB.

          I'm about done with AT&T for a host of reasons, and prepaid plans sound right for me and the missus.

          • by black6host (469985) on Saturday July 06, 2013 @10:42PM (#44207157)

            If the GP is referring to Straight Talk, you get unlimited everything (USA only) for 45.00/mo. Calls, texts, data etc. I've been using them for over a year and it's been fine for me. Plus, they use Verizon's towers so the coverage is excellent.

            Not in any way associated with them. I just use their service. I've got friends paying 60.00 plus a month for something like 700 minutes and that's on a dumb phone, very limited data. Why? The options are worth checking out......

          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            Its $45 a month for "unlimited" talk text and net, but the net you can feel them slow you down when you hit between 2-3GB,depending on how congested their network is at the time, which for the price? I REALLY don't give a shit because like I said I have my netbook and desktop for hardcore surfing, the Droid phone is just for little things like looking up facts when I'm out and about. Now if you want the latest and greatest phone its gonna cost you because there is no subsidies on the phones, but all I cared

        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          Yep I'm sure they got you by the balls with the fine print which is why I said screw all the bullshit and just went prepaid.

          You can get the Walmart android phone for less than $100 with the "unlimited" card (yes i know their unlimited starts slowing you down between 3-5GB,I'm not gonna do that much on a dang phone,that's what the netbook and desktop are for) and if they try jacking me around? Screw 'em, plenty of other pre-paid bunches out there, no contract means they don't have me by the short hairs anymore and so far the service has been great,I'm loving it.

          Ummm, you don't think your usage is being tracked and sold through that route? I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn, then.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

      It is their data. It is their network, to which you are subscribing.

      You are using their towers, or the towers they pay to use from other companies. You are using their exit nodes to a landline, if you call one. Every ping, every byte, is their property.

      Because of wiretapping laws, and the general unpleasantness of a massive subscriber torch fest, they are not going to do anything with your voice or data.

      The metadata, however, packaged on a phone you probably bought from them, processed on an extensive ne

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's funny how you Americans seem have no legal distinction between ownership and possession and derive most of your rights from what you can write down in a contract. In civilized countries you can't sign away a fundamental right and you certainly don't lose ownership of something just because it's in someone else's hands.

        Why do you need a government at all? Privatize the whole country! Land of the Free my ass - more like Land of the Corporate Fascism Drones.

        • by Rockoon (1252108)

          It's funny how you Americans seem have no legal distinction between ownership and possession and derive most of your rights from what you can write down in a contract. In civilized countries you can't sign away a fundamental right and you certainly don't lose ownership of something just because it's in someone else's hands.

          Your 'civilized country' example is exactly how America works. We just have different definitions for what constitutes 'property' and currently the meta-data about someone is not considered that persons property.

      • If you want to own the data, you have to own the network - own the hardware, own the fiber, own the towers. Then it's yours.

        We collectively own the airwaves. That is enough to contractually force the companies we lease them to to give up all claims of ownership of the data about us. All it takes are government representatives with enough balls.

        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          If you want to own the data, you have to own the network - own the hardware, own the fiber, own the towers. Then it's yours.

          We collectively own the airwaves. That is enough to contractually force the companies we lease them to to give up all claims of ownership of the data about us. All it takes are government representatives with enough balls.

          Ummm, no we do not. You do not even own the airspace about your property. The government regulates the airwaves, but that does not mean the people own them any more than the people own the electricity in the power lines because the government regulates that, too. At best, we collectively restrict the use of the airwaves by broadcast towers in our jurisdiction, but we don't own them.

          • Yay for pedancy! If the FCC sells licenses to use the airwaves, then we collectively own them for any reasonable definition of ownership.

            • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

              Yay for pedancy! If the FCC sells licenses to use the airwaves, then we collectively own them for any reasonable definition of ownership.

              No, we do not. The FCC say you may not broadcast in this country unless you have a license. The State also says you may not drive a car unless you have a license. That doesn't mean we collectively own all the cars. The FCC regulates what may be broadcasted from towers located in the US. There is nothing to own.

              If I want to go to Mexico or Canada and erect a tower on the same frequency as a US station, assuming those countries allow me to do so, there is nothing that the US can do to keep it from interferin

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Because of wiretapping laws, and the general unpleasantness of a massive subscriber torch fest, they are not going to do anything with your voice or data.

        The US Justice department holds that since voice is actually digitized it is really just another data stream and the wiretapping laws do not apply to cell phones. There was a big hoopla about it a few months back.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      Don't use ATT

      Not that simple. All the carriers are doing it to some extent. The easiest way is don't use a cell phone at all, or at least not a smart phone and turn it off when not needed.

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Saturday July 06, 2013 @07:29PM (#44206321) Homepage

    hmmm... is this the password that by default if you've never set it is set to the 1st 4 digits of your Social Security Number, like it is for Bell South? and how many retries are you allowed on the login? it's not 9,999 is it? and what are the first 3 digits of a SSN? why that'll be the area you were born, which probably closely match with the area code of the telephone number. that just leaves 2 digits left to guess...

  • by Khopesh (112447) on Saturday July 06, 2013 @07:41PM (#44206389) Homepage Journal

    I couldn't log in through the proffered http://www.att.com/cmpchoice [att.com] link.

    Another way in is through the standard payments portal [att.com]. Once logged in there, you can go to Profile -> Account & User Information -> Marketing Preferences [att.com]. This lets you opt out of direct marketing that they send to you. (Might as well take care of that while you're in there.) At the very bottom, below the buttons, is a link to "Update your privacy choices for External Marketing & Analytics reports" (which is the same cmpchoice link as above). Clicking it bypasses the login page since you're already authenticated.

  • No Such Thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday July 06, 2013 @08:23PM (#44206575)

    "The data in question is anonymized, according to AT&T, but it includes very sensitive information such as customers' locations, Web browsing history, mobile app usage and more."

    We have known for years now that there is no such thing as "anonymized" data. I found out the other day that somebody actually built a browser for viewing so-called "anonymous" data from the AOL data release some years ago.

    Generally, all it takes is a little sleuthing, and all that "anonymous" data becomes anything but.

    We need a law. Seriously... if you know me I am not someone who would normally say that. But we need better privacy laws in this country. The Constitutional guarantee of privacy (and yes, before you argue, SCOTUS said it does exist) simply seems to have been falling on deaf ears.

    • Re:No Such Thing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MacTO (1161105) on Saturday July 06, 2013 @09:19PM (#44206817)

      We needed laws that guaranteed customer privacy years ago. Unfortunately, it is far too late for those laws to be meaningful since businesses have found ways to generate revenues from customer data and they're not going to let go of that easily.

      At the very least, businesses will find loopholes in these laws. The most basic one is described in the summary: data is anonymized. From this perspective, businesses will claim that the data is property of their company and the anonymization process provides sufficient guarantees of privacy. The fact that it is possible to trace this data back to individual users would be beyond the scope of laws that most governments are willing to create simply because the businesses are, in a way, correct. Data with personally identifying information stripped is a product of the business because it is generated as a part of the businesses operations using the businesses infrastructure.

      Another possibility is to ship the data out of country, where customers are unlikely to be protected by privacy laws. Even if that country has privacy laws itself, it probably won't cover foreign citizens. Even if it did cover foreign citizens, it would be difficult for them to sue the appropriate entity in the appropriate jurisdiction.

      At the end of the day, it is best to assume that anything we do that involves a third party simply isn't private. In a sense, it even makes sense. We don't assume that our actions in a shopping mall are private since we are sharing that space with other people. Why should electrons passing over wires (or, in this case, RF spectrum) owned by a telecommunications company be any different? The same goes when we invite someone into our home. Even friends can gossip after all.

      I love the idea of privacy. I also recognize that it is difficult to protect. That is especially true when someone can benefit from violating your privacy. Since the threshold for privacy has been lowered incredibly far in recent years, I suspect that we will never be able to get it back. Such are the perils of leaping before you look: upon insisting upon an unregulated medium before understanding why prior media were regulated.

      • At the very least, businesses will find loopholes in these laws. The most basic one is described in the summary: data is anonymized

        What we need is a catchy term or phrase that rhymes with "anonymized" but means not-really-anonymous. If we can put a popular name to this fake anonymization that is the first step in rallying the political and consumer will to stop it.

        • by psnyder (1326089)
          "pseudo-anonymous data"
        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          At the very least, businesses will find loopholes in these laws. The most basic one is described in the summary: data is anonymized

          What we need is a catchy term or phrase that rhymes with "anonymized" but means not-really-anonymous. If we can put a popular name to this fake anonymization that is the first step in rallying the political and consumer will to stop it.

          How about "I got sodomized when AT&T only said they would anonymize me. Darn spell check!"

          Or "What's the difference from AT&T anonymizing your data and being sodomized? AT&T doesn't use vaseline"

          Or "What does AT&T stand for? Always Track This."

    • In addition to being one of those things that is harder than it looks(which would at least be theoretically solvable with a sufficient supply of comp sci talent), there's the more obvious conflict-of-interest problem: If I'm in the business of selling data, I'm not exactly going to work any harder than strictly required to make my product less valuable to my customers. "Anonymized" is a good word for me to throw in, because it's comforting, legally meaningless, and keeps people off my back; but I have no ac

    • by Mitreya (579078)

      Generally, all it takes is a little sleuthing, and all that "anonymous" data becomes anything but.

      Not to worry, they probably sell it in bulk and not cheap. So only large and wealthy organizations that are above the law anyway would have your private information.

      [sarcasm]Also, maybe AT&T will reduce their customer's bills now that they make extra money on selling their private info?[/sarcasm]

      • When AOL first released that infamous "sample" data, it took reporters about an hour to start identifying people.

        Not big companies. Not wealthy organizations. Some newspaper reporters. Sure, they probably had a couple of programmer friends help. But they didn't hire Hughes Corporation or anything.
    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      Someone I know was doing some consulting (Business Intelligence) work for a big data mining company (don't remember the name) where all of the data was anonymized.......it didn't take much work for him to find his data. How many people do you know that were born in the same year as you, drives the same car as you, and lives in the same neighborhood as you? Even if that's one or two others, you only need one or two more criteria to single you out (salary range, birth state, marital status, etc.).

      So, even i

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      "The data in question is anonymized, according to AT&T, but it includes very sensitive information such as customers' locations, Web browsing history, mobile app usage and more."

      We have known for years now that there is no such thing as "anonymized" data. I found out the other day that somebody actually built a browser for viewing so-called "anonymous" data from the AOL data release some years ago.

      Generally, all it takes is a little sleuthing, and all that "anonymous" data becomes anything but.

      We need a law. Seriously... if you know me I am not someone who would normally say that. But we need better privacy laws in this country. The Constitutional guarantee of privacy (and yes, before you argue, SCOTUS said it does exist) simply seems to have been falling on deaf ears.

      While I agree we need better privacy laws, the law cannot protect what you freely give away. If you know that the cell phone company is tracking this or that FB and Google track stuff and you continue to use those services, then that is not an invasion of privacy as you are willingly allowing it by using those services. Likewise, nobody is required to have a cell phone, so, knowing that the data is being tracked/stored/sold/whatever and you still chose to use a cell phone means that you have given tacit app

  • by Lendrick (314723) on Saturday July 06, 2013 @09:12PM (#44206795) Homepage Journal

    You don't think large advertising companies have some automated way of taking a GPS location, converting that to an address, then using public records to look up the owner of the property?

    Give me a month of a homeowner's GPS data and access to public records, and I can write a program that will determine exactly who they are with a relatively high degree of certainty.

    • by vettemph (540399)

      This!
      And not only that but your commute is as unique as your finger print. You could link an employer address with a home address along with any patents that list both on it and know way to much about a person. The only satisfaction I get from any of this is that I keep my ad blockers on and treat ads like warnings. Don't buy anything that doesn't sell itself.

  • Switch carriers.

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