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AT&T Denies Censorship, Won't Change Contract 170

Vox writes "As we discussed here a few days back, AT&T's Terms of Service has very broad language giving them the right to terminate the account of any AT&T Internet service customer who criticizes the company. Ars Technica notes that such broad language is not unusual in ISPs' terms of service, and that AT&T told them they won't be changing the contract. A company spokesman said it's not a big deal because they have no intent to censor criticism. AT&T claims to respect its subscribers' right to voice their opinions and says that the contract is aimed at stopping the exploitation of children, and other tangible wrongs. As the article notes, taking the company on faith after the spying scandal is asking maybe a little too much."
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AT&T Denies Censorship, Won't Change Contract

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  • open container law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:02PM (#20826051)

    Even though we can, we won't bust you or censor you... unless we want to, then we have a contract to point at. PLUS, if Uncle Sugar sends in the FBI to snoop you, we can point to the contract that YOU signed, saying we could. So we're indemnified.
  • Le Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:03PM (#20826067) Journal

    AT&T claims to respect its subscribers' right to voice their opinions and says that the contract is aimed at stopping the exploitation of children, and other tangible wrongs.
    Then put that specific language into the contract.
    The only reason to use broad statements is so that you have wiggle room later on.

    Lawyers love vague contract terms... Judges not so much.
  • by porkrind ( 314254 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:06PM (#20826123) Homepage Journal
    So are we going to have to draft a bill of rights and ask all online providers, from ISP's to online service companies, to sign it? Is that even remotely possible?

    Here's a stab at some of the rights I'd like to see protected:

    1. You may not restrict the right to access, download, store, manage, edit, and publish my data on the platform and web site of my choosing. Period.
    2. You may not terminate my account for political statements, inappropriate language, statements of sexual nature, religious commentary, or statements critical of your service, with exceptions for specific laws, eg. hate speech, where they apply

    Hmm... that's a good start. Any others to add?

    -John Mark
  • by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:07PM (#20826133) Homepage Journal
    "Hey, what's this about owing you my first-born child?"

    "Oh, that's standard contract language. Don't worry about it. We won't exercise it, we just make sure we have the option to."

    "Oh, okay, then."

    5 years later....

    "We've come for Billy."

    "What do you mean?"

    "We have a contract saying you'd give us your firstborn as an apprentice. You signed it."

    "But you said you'd never use that clause!"

    "New management. I don't know what you're complaining about. You signed it without duress, and initialed the clause indicating you'd read and understood it."


    "Sorry, honey, you have to go away with the nice Sith Lord. I'll text you every day, I promise."
  • Today then tomorrow (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:08PM (#20826155)
    If you don't intend to act on the terms of a contract, then why are those terms in that contract?

    Maybe current AT&T management has no intention of terminating accounts for criticism of the company, but what about the new managers who will be running things tomorrow? Your promises of "we won't do that" have no binding power whatsoever over the other people who will inherit the power of that contract tomorrow. (not to mention that they don't have any legal binding power over you, today).

    Sorry, but that just isn't good enough.
  • by mind21_98 ( 18647 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:10PM (#20826203) Homepage Journal
    I stopped supporting AT&T after the NSA fiasco. I refuse to buy anything of theirs again (sadly, this also means no iPhone, assuming that the hackers can't unlock it with 1.1.1 firmware).

    There are alternatives that aren't evil. For instance, for hosting: my service [] (shameless plug) -- unless it's illegal or interferes with other clients, I won't touch it. :)
  • by torkus ( 1133985 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:27PM (#20826451)
    Everyone's caught up in this clause on the contract but no one even things twice about the binding arbitration clause in almost every contract (including this one).

    They usually read something like "you agree never to sue us. Ever. If you're ever unhappy you agree to use binding arbitration (usually with a clause requiring phone, email, or mail settlement and barring in-person) with our chosen arbitration company xyz" ATT actually makes brief mention of small claims court but that's about it.

    Now, i know our court systems are horribly abused but it seems that a legitimate use for them "They billed my checking account for 12 months of service when it never worked according to their advertised bla bla bla" can never actually come to fruition.

    As for the clause everyone's complaining about: Would you let someone run a website/blog bashing your hosting company ON one of their servers? If you hate ATT enough that you'd publicly bash them, why would you use their servers to do it?

    I think this whole topic is a waste of time.

    person a "I want to be able to post my website and say whatever i want"
    person b "well i know ISP XYZ censors what you post"
    person a "Oh, ok. I won't go there then. There's only 14 million other hosting copmanies and plenty of ISP's"
  • by k1e0x ( 1040314 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:30PM (#20826511) Homepage
    Far as I'm concerned with the feds allowing their latest merger and AT&T's willingness to turn over any data they ask for.. AT&T might as well be the government. Good ol' SovietBell. heh
  • Re:Ok (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:34PM (#20826575)
    My UK ISP Demon has had a clause like this for ages []
    Demon cannot tolerate any behaviour by customers which negatively impacts upon its own equipment or network, or upon the use by other customers of the Internet, or which damages Demon's standing in the wider Internet community.

    It's a bit broad, like most consumer contracts - essentially they can stop you being a customer if you piss them off. But as far as I know they use it to get read of spammers, scammers and so on, not to get rid of people who criticize them.

    I'm very happy wirh Demon. But I think Laurence Godfrey is a nutter []
  • by pilgrim23 ( 716938 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:24PM (#20827307)
    run a line thru 90% of the contract. inital the line. then sign. And remember: SMILE!
  • by jdjbuffalo ( 318589 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:41PM (#20828545) Journal
    Basically what Qzukk said above me.

    You have to realize that in a truly capitalist environment you could get away with this because someone could go to a different ISP. But in many areas you have a choice between 1-2 ISPs (not counting dial-up). You have the cable company and the phone company (and the various 3rd party resellers of the phone companies lines).

    Whereas in a capitalist utopia you would have probably 10 different ISPs and all would have different terms and you could easily choose to switch between them without having to worry about a big behemoth cutting you off the internet access (corporate censorship).
  • Re:Ok (Score:3, Interesting)

    by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:10PM (#20829107) Journal
    a) "clause giving them the right to terminate the account of any AT&T Internet service customer who criticizes the company"
    b) "the contract is aimed at stopping the exploitation of children, and other tangible wrongs"

    Actually, won't (a) actively prevent (b). Statistically, AT&T must employ some people who are child molesters and/or view child pornography. The clause could silence someone who wanted to 'out' one of these employees. Sure it's highly unlikely, but I don't see any other way the two issues are related, as speech related to exploitation of children is generally not merged with speech related to how crappy AT&T is.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake