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Just say "No" to AT&T

AT&T is set to claim your calling records and Web clickstream their own to monetize as it sees fit. Customers deserve better. It's time to boycott AT&T.

AT&T will post a new customer privacy policy on its Web site today, according to The Washington Post, which dramatically extends the company's ownership rights in customer data:

"While your account information may be personal to you, these records constitute business records that are owned by AT&T," the new policy states. "As such, AT&T may disclose such records to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."

The AT&T privacy policy, which was last updated on June 16 (these things are not discussed a great deal), does not include this langauge at this writing.

The policy raises two issues. First, it appears to grant AT&T free rein to respond to warranted or warrantless searches by the government. The former, of course, is perfectly legal. The later is a disaster for our privacy and democracy generally.

Second, it is an explicit claim that AT&T has every right to monetize its customer information without ever compensating customers for the information they share with the company.

As I wrote the other day, the data we create is now being treated as the raw material of someone else's mining effort. Despite well-intended efforts to stake the individual's claim to ownership of the metadata they create as they act on networks, such as the principles of the AttentionTrust, companies are rolling ahead with these land grab claims to everything they might exploit to make more money.

Customers own their data, even when their individual information is combined with other's calling records or clickstreams and anonymized. There is real value there that they should share in. I'm not saying that companies shouldn't make money with customer data, only that they should a.) ask for permission first, instead of simply telling customers that's how it is, and b.) share some of the revenue generated with customers in direct and explicit ways--it is not enough to say "We don't charge you more for services because we sell your data."

If AT&T feels it can dictate rules to its customers rather than discuss and debate the ways it will use customer data, customers should boycott the company. Switch from AT&T landlines to VoIP services or a wireless service that has a better policy (good luck with that, though) and if AT&T is your ISP, switch to one that doesn't claim the right to sell your clickstream data.

Write a letter to the CEO of AT&T, Ed Whiteacre, explaining that you will not do business with the company until it acknowledges customers' ownership rights in their data. It's the only way to send a message Whiteacre and his company's board of directors will hear and respond to; customers have to make the business case for fair data privacy policies.