The AT&T/iPhone Moral Quandary

Click to viewThe iPhone is the most hyped up phone ever, and it's coming next week. People are going to be waiting in line for hours to get their paws on it without having seen it. Hey, it's fun to get excited about gadgets—that's why we're all here, right?

The problem is, the iPhone is only available through AT&T, in my opinion one of the most unscrupulous telecoms around. AT&T's tactics combine Microsoft-style anti-competitive maneuvers and anti-privacy efforts á la RIAA for a chilling effect. I avoid giving AT&T any of my money; it's a personal boycott. I'd like to call for a more wide- ranging one, but that brings up an interesting question: Does a hyped gadget you really want trump any moral misgivings you might have about where it's coming from?

First, let me break down why I think AT&T isn't worthy of your hard-earned money. Back in the 1980s, the original telecom giant was broken up for being a monopoly only to cobble itself back together again years later to nearly the same form as before. (Of course, it now has competition in some businesses, but in many regions of the US it still reigns frighteningly supreme.)

Last year, it was discovered that AT&T has been secretly spying on Americans for the government. Maybe it still is. Then, just recently, it announced that it planned to spy on Internet surfers yet again, looking for pirated media files, presumably to the delight of the RIAA and MPAA. If you don't want to get spied on and want to switch ISPs, guess what? Depending on where you live, you might not have any other options. And if AT&T snoops on all data passing through its network, most US Internet users will be affected, not just AT&T customers. It runs a significant amount of the backbone infrastructure of the Internet, leaving little traffic outside its grasp.

So what we have is a company that doesn't have privacy at the top of its priority list, not to mention the anti-trust laws of this country. It's setting terrible precedents left and right, and its vast power that comes from its huge size makes it all the more unlikely to change for the better. We, as contentious, tech-savvy individuals, should go out of our way to deprive this company of money, power and influence.

However, there are thousands, maybe millions, of people out there just dying to get their hands on an iPhone, and AT&T has a lock on the device for five years.

So, Apple and iPhone fans, what's more important to you? Having the hottest device, or knowing that you are standing up to a company, that in my opinion, has no regard for the privacy and consumer choice of Americans? Is it up to us, the customers, to stand up to these practices, or should we just keep shopping and hope the regulators do their jobs?

I, for one, will be continuing my AT&T boycott for the foreseeable future.