AT&T customers' privacy left blowing in the wind

The company sends customers of its in-flight voice mail program a departing surprise as it cancels their service: the email addresses of fellow frequent air-phone users.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
AT&T sent customers of its in-flight voice mail program a departing surprise last week when it canceled their service: the email addresses of their fellow frequent air-phone users.

AT&T?s aviation division sent an email Friday with roughly 700 email addresses visible in the "send to" line. The potential privacy breach was acknowledged by the sender as a technical faux pas--an increasingly common and often disturbing happening on the Internet.

"It was done in error. We wanted to avoid any of this, but it was a technical error on our part," said AT&T aviation division spokesman Nick Hunt.

Several members who received the email exposing their own address were miffed by the error, Hunt said. He said the company plans to send an apology to those members whose email addresses were delivered to other customers.

"This is a sheer sign of carelessness on the part of this group to send out the private emails of its most valued clients," one member said. "They should take steps to guard the privacy of these clients."

AT&T's aviation division, based in Seattle, sent the email to cancel a program that lets members check voice mail via the air-phones. The service will be officially canceled Nov. 30.

About 3,000 members, mostly corporate fliers, signed up for the service, which launched last year. Although AT&T sent the email to all of the program's members, only about one-third received the errant message.