The Rising Cost of Privacy

August 09, 2016

comcastA few months ago, the FCC voted for new broadband privacy rules to take effect. The rules would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and AT&T to remain transparent about collecting data – including letting customers know what they’re using the data for – and allow users to easily opt out if they wish to preserve their privacy. In response to these new rules, Comcast proposed charging its customers more per month for the “opt out” process, thus penalizing broadband users for wanting to protect their privacy.

While many ISPs claim that the data collection they obtain from customers helps them to better target customized ads and other personalized features, it should be up to the consumer to decide if that’s even something they’re comfortable with and can therefore “shut off” if they choose. Comcast’s proposal brings another issue to light in this debate. If given the choice, would it be better to pay a premium to ensure your privacy remains intact? Or should privacy be viewed as a right instead of an extravagance?

This is not the first time an ISP has charged for privacy. Comcast is following in the footsteps of AT&T, which already charges their customers a significant premium for opting out of data collection. Currently, AT&T’s customers must spend $30 to $60 more per month to ensure that their personal information isn’t subject to “deep-packet inspection to track and monetize user behavior around the Internet.”

On the contrary, both Comcast and AT&T have said that the premium fee they’re charging members to opt out of data collection is actually not a fee at all, but instead, the regular price for broadband. Both companies explained that they’re simply providing a discount for consumers who allow the companies to collect data from them.

Despite Comcast’s claims that data collection in exchange for services is widely acceptable, the fact that Comcast and AT&T see privacy as something consumers must pay up for and, in AT&T’s case, make the “opt out” process nearly impossible by hiding it in the fine print when customers go to select a plan, creates suspicion where there should be transparency. With the FCC’s new rules, there’s hope that consumers can take charge of their own privacy and understand the true cost of relinquishing it to ISPs.

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart

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