Companies have every right to track consumers that are using their product; it is in fact, their product.
Information tracking by Internet service providers has received a great deal of press lately, with a large amount of controversy surrounding the ethics of the issue. The latest information tracking controversy surrounds the launch of AT&T 1 gigabit-per-second service in Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri. The issue that people are upset about is that in order for users to not be tracked as they surf the web they must pay a higher monthly service fee, or as AT&T is phrasing it, a discount to people who are okay with being tracked.
“AT&T’s new service uses searches terms entered, Web pages visited, and links clicked. The tracking remains in effect even if you clear cookies, use an ad block program, or switch on a browser’s do-not-track settings. The company uses the data it collects to help advertisers target ads on Web pages, email messages or direct mail” – Elizabeth Dwoskin and Thomas Gryta from the Wall Street Journal.
Since the user information being tracked is shared with advertisers so they can gain a better understanding of consumer interest, rather than being used by the government to track potential crimes, people really have nothing to worry about. They should be happy that they are receiving a discount because there really is no foreseeable downside for the user’s perspective, except a slight feeling of their privacy being invaded.
Yet, many people still are upset about their information be tracked and sold to third parties, believing that this action should be illegal.
“Lax regulation allows communications providers to charge for safeguards that consumers previously assumed they would receive by default, said Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington” – Elizabeth Dwoskin and Thomas Gryta from the Wall Street Journal.
However, from a legal standpoint it seems that what AT&T is doing is perfectly okay. Consumers are not forced to buy a specific service from a company, such as the GigaPower service by AT&T. If enough people are upset about the tracking, nothing is stopping them from finding a different company to purchase their service from.
Economic principles would lead us to believe that if that many consumers are upset by the AT&T tracking, then AT&T would be forced to change their business model in order to stay competitive. Currently Gigabit-per-second Internet service is very uncommon, make it seem like AT&T is safe from heavy competition in the mean time. It is becoming more prevalent though, and only time will tell if AT&T will end up changing their pricing model due to consumer complaints or outside competition.