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An advertisement for AT&T appears on a Verizon branded scoreboard at New Meadowlands Stadium during an international friendly soccer match between the U.S. and Argentina in East Rutherford, New Jersey March 26, 2011. An advertisement for AT&T appears on a Verizon branded scoreboard at New Meadowlands Stadium during an international friendly soccer match between the U.S. and Argentina in East Rutherford, New Jersey March 26, 2011.  

Shareholders: Time for Verizon and AT&T to fess up on data collection

Giuseppe Macri
Tech Editor

Verizon Communications and AT&T received warnings to start talking about their roles in government surveillance, or face some red-ledger consequences this month.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli filed a demand this month against AT&T for details about the consumer data the carrier shares with organizations like the NSA.

“If a customer is concerned about their privacy perhaps being compromised, they could switch to another service,” DiNapoli said in The New York Times.

The major mobile carriers have kept quiet on the issue of data-sharing with the government since the NSA surveillance programs were leaked this summer, while Silicon Valley giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have repeatedly asked the government to let them disclose such information.

Trillium Asset Management invests $1.3 billion on behalf of customers into companies including Verizon and AT&T. Trillium filed a similar demand against both companies, alleging that the companies’ lack of transparency is hurting shareholders.

“Transparency is essential if individuals and businesses are to make informed decisions regarding their data,” Trillium said about the potential for the companies to lose customers over privacy concerns.

After a summer of leaked documents detailed how the National Security Agency obtains information from both carriers about their customers’ phone use, another leak in November pushed the comptroller and investment firm to act.

The New York Times reports that the CIA pays AT&T $10 million per year for access to the company’s phone record database.

The deal for the data — which includes American’s international calls — is voluntary on AT&T’s part, and never ordered by a court.

“As standard practice we look carefully at all shareholder proposals but at this point in the process we do not expect to comment on them,” AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said.

“We’ve received the proposal and we’re currently evaluating it,” Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni said.

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