What are these changes? In the revised policy, AT&T makes explicit the claim that it owns your customer calling data, which it will use for any “legitimate business interests” that it has. This is a broader and clearer assertion of the company’s claims to your data, and it also comes with the caveat that AT&T will release your data in response to “legal process” (a similar clause was present in the earlier version in slightly different form). AT&T also claims the right to collect data on its customer’s video viewing habits, which sets the stage for the company to track customer usage of its new U-verse IPTV service.
Such video tracking is illegal for most cable companies, though AT&T has long insisted that its service is something unique, and therefore exempt from such requirements. This is a controversial claim, and one that’s currently being tested by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which sees no reason why AT&T should be allowed to use a separate rulebook.
The company says that the changes to the policy’s language haven’t resulted in any changes; they were just made to clarify the existing policy. Michael Coe, a company spokesman, says that “We are not changing how we treat customer information. We updated our policy to make the language clearer and easier for our customers to understand.”
So that’s settled, then. Except that these claims don’t convince privacy activists like Chris Hoofnagle, who expressed skepticism about the reasons given for the changes.
“Harmonizing privacy policies should have taken place at the time of the merger (which was announced in March). The timing of the policy change is more likely related to lawsuits brought against the company for (allegedly) disclosing (consumers’) records. … AT&T is reserving an unqualified right to exploit personal information any way the company sees fit. The intent is veiled in euphemisms, but the language means that the company believes it has an unqualified right to do almost anything with the data.”
AT&T is mailing announcements of the change to its customers this week.