AT&T assures us that all data will be anonymized and so the marketers will never be able to pin down exactly who you are, for what that’s worth. According to them, the idea is that its partners will be able to “deliver more relevant advertising”, nothing new in itself, but in light of all the privacy-related headlines these days it’ll doubtless be of concern to many.
The carrier is also planning to hit you up with its own advertising as well, based on things such as your location. For example, if AT&T notices you tend to hang out at the cinema quite a bit, it might decide you’re a movie buff and deliver suitable ads:
“People who live in a particular geographic area might appear to be very interested in movies, thanks to collective information that shows wireless devices from that area are often located in the vicinity of movie theaters. We might create a “movies” characteristic for that area, and deliver movie ads to the people who live there.”
Despite the piss-poor timing of AT&T’s announcement, few will be surprised by the decision. Its biggest rival Verizon has been selling user data for a good couple of years already, while Facebook and Google have built up multi-billion dollar empires on the back of the practice. Indeed, IDC recently estimated that the data sale-to-advertisers industry will be worth around $24 billion within the next three years, which illustrates just how commonplace it’s become.
So what kind of data does AT&T plan to sell about you? Thankfully, so they assure us, it won’t be the contents of your calls, SMS messages, emails or anything like that (we hope). Instead, it’ll be things like location data, demographics, your sex, web browsing habits if you have a smartphone, viewing behavior if you happen to watch AT&T’s U-verse TV service, and other tidbits.
AT&T insists that because all the data it sells about you is anonymized, there’s no risk that advertisers or anyone else might be able to personally identify you – but then again, do we trust them? In light of the Ed Snowden leaks, this whole issue of ‘trust’ has become a hot potato as far as tech companies are concerned, and I can imagine that more than a few consumers won’t be too impressed with the decision. After all, if AT&T’s data is for sale, what’s to stop the NSA buying it all (if they don’t have access already)? And we all know that, even if data is anonymized, it can often tell far more about you than most companies will ever admit.
Thankfully AT&T says that it’s giving customers the chance to opt out of its data gathering and sale operation at any time – something you can do by accessing your privacy preferences here. Of course, this is really just a token gesture by AT&T, which can rest easy in the knowledge that 99% of its users will never actually opt out, because most will never even realize they can.