Thu Jun 22, 2006 8:11 AM ET
**when all else fails, change the rules....**
The changes take effect on Friday and come at a time when AT&T and other phone companies face lawsuits claiming they aided a U.S. government domestic spying program by giving the National Security Agency call records of millions of customers without their permission.
AT&T said the updated policy was aimed at helping customers understand its practices better and does not change how it treats customer information.
The new policy, unlike the old one, spells out the fact that AT&T owns its customers data. It says that customer information constitutes "business records that are owned by AT&T. As such, AT&T may disclose such records to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process".
The earlier policy had simply said that, aside from normal business operations such as billing and service provisioning, the company could share customer information to "respond to subpoenas, court orders or other legal process, to the extent required and/or permitted by law", as well as to "to establish or exercise" its legal rights.
Under the new policy, which was being mailed out to AT&T's more than 7 million Internet customers, the company also said that it would track viewing information for customers of a television service it is developing in order to help it make recommendations to customers based on their viewing habits.
It also said that before customers use its services they must agree to the policy, an element that was not in its previous guidelines.
Spokesman Michael Coe said the company, which was formed in November by the merger of AT&T Corp. and SBC Communications Inc., had been working on the new policy for the last six months.
"We are not changing how we treat customer information," said Coe. "We updated our policy to make the language clearer and easier for our customers to understand."