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AT&T's high-speed service comes with a privacy fee; Google bows to privacy spot checks

AT&T’s has begun rollout of a fiber-optic Internet service that furnishes customers with high-speed access, but they must pay an extra monthly charge if they want to keep their browsing habits private. In other data privacy news, Google accepted the terms of an agreement drawn up by an Italian data privacy regulator, and U.K. security experts found that older Samsung smart TVs don’t encrypt voice-related data.

AT&T charges privacy fee for fiber-optic Internet service

AT&T’s fiber-optic Internet service, called GigaPower, touts access speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second, but it comes with a catch: Customers must pay a monthly fee to opt out of being monitored by the company and keep their browsing habits private.

Online monitoring expert Jonathan Mayer told the Wall Street Journal that the service’s privacy option was “troubling” because it allows AT&T to perform relatively wide-ranging user tracking, while customers aren’t necessarily in a position to prevent it. Furthermore, Mayer questioned whether the fee was really a penalty meant to discourage customers from opting out of tracking, particularly because many online companies allow their users to do so free of charge.

An AT&T spokeswoman claimed that this was not the case, however. “We can offer a lower price to customers participating in AT&T Internet Preferences because advertisers will pay us for the opportunity to deliver relevant advertising and offers tailored to our customer’s interests,” she said.

Google agrees to privacy inspections by Italian regulators

Last week, Google accepted the terms of an agreement outlined by a European data privacy regulator that lays out how Google will comply with Italy’s privacy laws. Google agreed to comply with an order to improve its privacy policy, including allowing opt-outs for targeted advertising and to reveal how long it keeps user data. The agreement, with which Google will have until Jan. 15, 2016 to comply, includes regular spot checks at the company’s U.S. headquarters to monitor its progress.

The agreement is the latest development in a series of European investigations that began in 2012, when Google released a single privacy policy that encompassed its various services, such as Gmail and YouTube. The EU privacy regulators found the policy to be in violation of European law because it blended together user data collected from across those services to create a fuller profile of users. Those investigations culminated in orders to comply with national privacy laws and fines from Spain and France.

Older Samsung smart TVs do not encrypt voice data

After U.K.-based cybersecurity experts disclosed that some of Samsung’s smart TVs upload users’ voices online without encrypting the data, Samsung told the BBC that it will equip its latest models with data encryption. A software update will also be available for download on previous models.

Samsung’s oversight, according to the experts, makes it easier for hackers to spy on users. The cybersecurity experts made the discovery during their testing of one of Samsung’s older smart TV models. They found that the TVs were uploading audio files of their voice commands in an unencrypted form, along with data about the TVs and their MAC addresses, which could function as an identifier. The transcription of the voice commands, which was sent back to the TVs so their screens could act on the commands, was also unencrypted. According to the experts, the flaw was serious because intercepting those communications could be done over Wi-Fi, or be carried out by Internet service providers, governments and law enforcement.

This news comes at the heels of Samsung announcing an update to its privacy policy earlier this month. The policy’s old language implied that Samsung smart TVs’ voice command feature captured personal or sensitive information and transmitted them to third parties.