My iPhone and AT&T Sin Tax


When I bought my first iPhone a year ago, I made a donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a sort of sin tax. An indulgence for an indulgence. An attempt to counteract giving money to a company that has colluded illegally with the U.S. government to spy on its own citizens, has plans to try to filter the entire internet for copyright violations, and has generally shown itself to be an enemy to personal liberty and privacy.

But boy do I like my iPhone.

Since I just purchased an iPhone 3G and hence have extended my contract for another two years, I've extended my donation to the EFF to match my monthly bill to AT&T for the duration. It's hardly the most laudable option — if I were really going to stick to my guns I'd forgo the iPhone and AT&T entirely — but it is my compromise.

Certainly I'm happy to bask in any encouragement and handjobs you'd like to extend, but mostly I'm mentioning it as a challenge to other AT&T subscribers. If you can afford it, please consider making some sort of donation to the EFF. Even a one-time donation will help bolster an organization that has a long history of fighting for our rights online against attacks from profit-addled interests. By giving companies like AT&T our money we're funding in part a fight against ourselves; a donation to the EFF tips the odds back towards even.

Plus you get a hat.

Donate! []

PreviouslyTalking About AT&T's Internet Filtering on AT&T's The Hugh Thompson Show
AT&T: Use of P2P software is grounds for service termination
Interview with AT&T's "Filter the Internet" Exec

Join the Conversation


  1. Excellent idea! I keep telling myself I’ll donate to EFF one of these days; I’m soon to receive a bit of a windfall which I’m planning to blow on an iPhone; now I know precisely what to do with whatever’s left over after my buy-gasm. Win-win!

  2. I think the more appropriate challenge is not becoming an AT&T customer. The only compromise here is your integrity.

  3. It would appear Joel’s price for his individual freedom has been determined, use of a wireless phone. At least you admit it Joel, that you’ll sell your privacy and freedom for a phone.

    The fiber sniffers being placed in major CO’s across this country that run right into neighboring FBI/NSA rooms/buildings is a heavy tax on liberty and freedom. This in not anecdotal, this is reality in many cities.

    The challenge to all AT&T customers (iPhone or not) is to drop AT&T, providing any service.

    If you’re paying AT&T for anything and have an alternative available, you’re diluting yourself about how it’s okay to use an AT&T service. If you use any AT&T service, your price for individual freedom been met. You’re helping a company that complies with governmental bodies that are sworn to uphold our Constitution, but instead disregard it flagrantly.

    We’re forced to pay our bill for the monthly service of a government that operates in an unconstitutional manner. But at least we can elect the members of management at various levels.

    The only way you’re going to make a difference is to drop AT&T.

  4. “If you’re paying AT&T for anything and have an alternative available, you’re *diluting* yourself about how it’s okay to use an AT&T service.”

    Yeah Joel stop being so Robinson’s Barley Water about this issue man.

  5. #5: Heelarious, point taken. And thanks for making me learn what “Robinson’s Barley Water” is.

  6. I like your rationale for giving money to the EFF while having a contract with AT&T in order to use the iPhone.

    hmmm… I do not use AT&T, but have been meaning to give a donation to EFF. I think I ought to do so. Thank you for the reminder of what they do for us!

  7. #7, Patrick: Exactly. All the major telcos participated in illegal NSA spying, it was only that a whistleblower at AT&T was able to provide incontrovertible evidence necessary for a suit against that particular company.

    #3, Sleighboy: “But at least we can elect the members of management at various levels.”

    Another good point, which is why I think I’ll also toss a contribution to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the only NYS congress critter who’s displayed any integrity on this issue, as far as I know.

  8. #6 No problemo buddy. You should always proof read your rants otherwise you can delude your message. 😉

    Luckily I can have an iPhone without worrying about AT&T’s dastardly scheme. Unless 02 have some nefarious purpose beyond ripping people off with roaming charges that I am not aware of.

  9. Joel, I love ya man, but rationalizations like these, however well-meaning, are bunk.

    You gotta admit that at best you’re achieving some kind of karmic “wash”, where your actions are of minimal impact.

    That’s weak. Don’t mitigate your impact. Do like the rest of us and suck it up with “an alternative” until “something better” (maybe!) comes along.

  10. You bastard, I placed a bet that you wouldn’t buy the new iPhone. Why? BECAUSE YOU SAID SO. I believed you Joel Johnson, but never again.

    So you know exactly what you’ve cost me, you should be receiving the baggy with my scrotum hair in it shortly.

  11. It’s a compromise at best, hypocrisy at worst. I’m comfortable with my decision, but I’m not about to disagree. My only retort: if you’ve contributed less to the EFF this year than my contribution minus my fees to AT&T (a few hundred dollars, I think?), you should really consider matching my donation before you get too persnickety.

    Frankly, though, if I’d known I was going to get free scrotum hair I would have bought the new iPhone much, much sooner.

  12. Worry Hat vs Tin Foil Hat

    BTW, has the EFF ever won a case?

    I seem to remember I didnt give to them when Mr Doctorow was their employee because I prefer to use my charity money effectively.

  13. I’m a huge Apple fan, so naturally the desire for an iPhone is very strong for me. But then, AT&T.

    So far I’m really enjoying my new Crackberry.

  14. Once again, it really doesn’t matter which carrier you’re using, they ALL collaborated in the illegal wiretapping scheme. Except for Qwest, as Susan Oliver pointed out earlier; I guess I’m resigned to a life of ideological impurity as measured by BoingBoing, since I’ve got no plans to relocate to the Midwest…

  15. I regret to inform you that I must reiterate my policy of declining to extend handjobs to bloggers*, now or in the future.

    *policy may be waived depending on the gender of the blogger and the precise definition of “handjob”.

  16. Joel,

    You are right, I wasnt trying. Anyway I dont believe in moral offset or the selling of indulgence.

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