AT&T "Internet Preferences" is Revolutionary

By Gary Kim December 11, 2013

AT&T is doing something very interesting in Austin, Texas, aside from launching a gigabit Internet access service. It essentially plans to compensate its access customers $30 a month for the right to use their browsing history to target ads.

That would seem to be a first in the ISP industry and essentially puts a value on what a user's browsing history might be worth to a marketing services firm.

AT&T in Austin, Texas is launching its “GigaPower” all-fiber Internet access network for prices starting at $70 a month, featuring speeds of 300 Mbps downstream initially and a boost to 1 Gbps in 2014.

AT&T will offer two “U-verse with GigaPower” offers. The “Premier” version will cost $70 a month, while the “Standard” plan will cost $99 a month.

You might find it odd that the premier version costs less than the standard version.

The reason is the value to AT&T of collecting user browsing history. “U-verse with GigaPower Premier offer is available with your agreement to participate in AT&T Internet Preferences,” AT&T says.

Internet Preferences allows AT&T to use customer Web browsing information, such as the search terms people enter and the Web pages customer visit, to provide relevant offers and ads to customers based on that profile.

AT&T is not the first company ever to contemplate, or create, programs that compensate users for the value of their browsing behavior. Google, for example, apparently is getting ready to debut a new service that would pay people to allow Google to get more data, and analytics, including about how they are using their devices and apps.

The “Screenwise” market research program actually is a year or so old, but now will use a mobile app to track data that formerly required user panels.

The Screenwise market research program is designed to "help learn more about things like technology usage, how people are consuming media and how they use Google products," Google says.

"These panels are made up of volunteers who have certain activities measured and are compensated for their participation,” Google says.

But the AT&T pricing plans essentially represent $30 a month in “payments,” in the form of a discount, for allowing AT&T to use browsing history to target ads.

Almost predictably, some will complain about the practice, but many have argued that users should be compensated when ISPs or other application providers “pay users for the value of their behavior.”

In essence, that is what AT&T is doing, compensating users at $30 a month for the right to use browsing behavior to tailor advertising and other marketing offers. It might be overlooked, but AT&T is doing what some have advocated for some time, namely compensating users for the value of their behavior online, when used to target advertising.

That is a huge development. AT&T essentially is compensating end users at a $30 a month rate for the right to target advertising to users who agree to allow it. That puts a rather high value on the value of a user’s browsing history, and the size of the business AT&T believes it might create.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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