Shareholders are putting AT&T and Verizon Wireless on notice: Tell the public more about the companies’ role in government surveillance efforts or risk a ding to the bottom line.
Two separate but similar shareholder resolutions, from New York State’s comptroller and a large investment firm, say that the two dominant wireless carriers hurt customers’ trust by not disclosing more about the data they share with governments. The resolutions are the latest sign that the flurry of revelations about American spying efforts is putting business pressure on the companies lassoed into providing customer data to the government.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which juggle enormous amounts of phone calls and Internet data over their networks, have been quiet about the types of information they share about their customers. Internet giants like Yahoo and Google, meanwhile, have published so-called transparency reports detailing the types of information they share with government agencies.
Some tech companies, including Microsoft and Apple, have also been outspoken about their desire to release more information on government requests, including how many orders they receive to disclose the contents of email and other communications.
The comptroller and Trillium Asset Management, an independent investment adviser with over $1.3 billion in assets under management, are pushing for similar disclosure from AT&T and Verizon. They say their investments in AT&T and Verizon are at stake because a lack of trust could make customers look for other service providers.
In the last several months, AT&T and Verizon have come under scrutiny for their cooperation with government surveillance programs. A court order revealed that the Obama administration secretly collected records for calls made between the United States and abroad, as well as calls within the United States. This month, it was revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency paid AT&T $10 million a year for access to its enormous database of phone records, including Americans’ international phone calls.