AT&T threatens to disconnect subscribers who criticize them

AT&T has rolled out new Terms of Service for its DSL service that leave plenty of room for interpretation. From our reading of it, in concert with several others, what we see is a ToS that attempts to give AT&T the right to disconnect its own customers who criticize the company on blogs or in other online settings. In section 5 of its legal ToS, AT&T stipulates the following:

AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.

Translation: "conduct" that AT&T "believes" "tends to damage" its name, or the name of its partners, can get you booted off the service. Note the use of "tends to damage": the language of the contract does not require any proof of any actual damage.

Link: Forum Discussion (Thanks peachey)
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News source: Ars Technica

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46 Comments

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Isn't this the same thing as some Windows users cursing and cussing Windows and Microsoft (not a classy thing to do anyway) being told to use something else (*nix or Mac OS, for example)? Except, AT&T is "forcing" those to use a different service by physically disconnecting them. If you don't like something, switch to an alternative. The choices are out there as someone's mentioned.

There's also a fine line between expressing your opinion and attempting to damage the name or reputation. Because by doing the ladder, you're violating the rights of the subject.

There's more than one way of interpreting the situation and there's never a simple conclusion.

After all the things I have experienced and heard from my friends about AT&T I will never do business with them. AT&T = Ripoff

WOW.. just WOW !!

Yeah I think AT&T should disconnect themselves considering that they just damaged their reputation !!

I believe this statement in there terms of service agreement

c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.

c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.
There crackdown on the iphone also c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.

LOL. Thank god I'm in the UK. Id love to see a company getting away with that over here. I've heard of tiscali banning people of their forums for saying they were crap but nothing like this. Come on you yanks. You can sue someone for taking a **** in your back garden. I can't believe you'd let an internet company get away with this. Sue their asses.

at&t sucks,wont touch anything of thiers,if they really do this then ppl will leave them and goto someone else who wont be lame.

THEY CANT DO THIS..

and here is WHY: (( Freedom of speech / Freedom of Expression )) The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under international law through numerous human rights instruments..

and if they do they are breaking the LAW

No.

The Freedom of speech/expressions laws are there ONLY to protect you from what you say about the Government, not a private organization (at least in theory of course). AT&T have their own rules and can do what they like, and it's not against the law for them to change the ToS in this manner.

It is incredibly stupid and creates bad PR, but hey, they can act dumb if they want to. :P

You have the freedom to say whatever you want about AT&T. They have the freedom to cut your service. It goes both ways you know.

Obviously they are a Chinese company now, because the Freedom of Speech part of the US Constitution doesn't apply to them anymore.
I guess they got enough of hearing about how they suck!!!

AT&T sux.... i refused to buy their services. I'd rather deal with charter internet service. it kind of sux. but not as bad as AT&T which i would have to pay for a landilne as well. wtf do i need a landline for? my cellphone from T-MOBILE rocks. no landline needed. no thank you.

AT&T can kiss my @$$

hehe

I don't get it. If AT&T cuts your service, that means they've lost a customer. Wouldn't that be to their loss instead?

So you criticize them, they shut you down and you move to another direct competitor and continue to criticize AT&T even more for cutting you off?

qwexor said,
So you criticize them, they shut you down and you move to another direct competitor and continue to criticize AT&T even more for cutting you off?

HAHA! You said it!
- Let's shut down customers who criticize us.
- Hell yeah! That would make us gain market shares and increase profit!
- So they have to pick another service provider that allow them to criticize us even more. Excellent!
- Excellent idea indeed!

You still have free speech as long as you don't talk about AT&T!!??!!

This is an industry dominated by the big players. Some areas have a monopoly on service and some people might be forced to use AT&T or some other large carrier. What if the other carriers do the same thing? At the least, since billing and technical issues can be a one-sided affair (they're right and you're wrong), I only think it fair for consumers to be able to debate the issue on the Net.

Don't be took quick to judge, it might be a simple corporate-level harm where a user comes out and says AT&T bosses rape goats for a hobby. I doubt 'AT&T sucks today, I've got high ping times' counts as a reason to be cut off.

how are they gonna know anyway? are they going around looking for bloggers or websites or forum posts, then find out that person's IP? i'm not sure how something like this even works, would like to know. :P

Netrack said,

agreed, there are alot of other providers out there

Not for land line and DSL service. AT&T dominates these areas in all but minor pockets in my state. They own all the lines and don't allow any other service through them.

Bring it on AT&T! I think they're a bunch of wussies - all talk.
C'mon I dare ya'!

Oh by the way, AT&T blows goats and attends communist party meetings!
Their cellular phone network unlawfully interferes with my reception of "alien thought waves."
Their satellite service also causes sterility in my trained raptors.
Their mama also dresses them funny.

Is that enough?
Now, go away or I shall taunt you a second time (said with ridiculous french accent)
I wish I had a personal account with them just so I could get canceled over my "conduct."

I predict a VERY LARGE uproar over this.

The class action suit will be extremely entertaining and I for one would LOVE to be a part of it.
In fact, I bet my boss and all his buddies at the country club would like getting on board too.

This one is going to get ugly fast. Looks like they used very carefully crafted words like "believes" as mentioned above. Groklaw is probably going to have a field day tearing this one up.

A1Capone said,
Great, there goes your right for Freedom of Speech..

What this World is turning into?

Thankfully AT&T is not a government. Free speech is alive and well: AT&T, you suck.

GreyWolfSC said,

Thankfully AT&T is not a government. Free speech is alive and well: AT&T, you suck.


And people wonder why the US is going to hell in a hand basket. All the ignorant folks who'd rather be on the internet playing or posting than learning what the Constitution and Bill or Rights actually says and means.

Quote - QuarterSwede
And people wonder why the US is going to hell in a hand basket. All the ignorant folks who'd rather be on the internet playing or posting than learning what the Constitution and Bill or Rights actually says and means.

So.. were you actually shooting for cosmic irony?

The text of the first amendment is:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It's pretty clear that *only* the government can't stifle your speech. AT&T is a private company - you have no rights to their equipment. You pay for the PRIVILEGE to use their service. Should you object to the manner in which said service is provided, you have the right to exercise your options in the market - select another service from the competition and be done with it. Under no circumstances is there a legal basis in fact for a violation of the United States Constitution in this case.

You want a real trashing of the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment? Try the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, a.k.a. the "McCain-Feingold" reform bill. Look it up.