AT&T Hires Verizon For Web Portal Management

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In what has to be the most bizarre carrier news ever, AT&T has hired carrier rival Verizon Wireless to manage its att.net web portal.

For reasons unknown, Ma Bell fired the former vendor that managed its web portal, a company called Synacor. The fired company announced its firing in a press release earlier this month. "Synacor, Inc., the trusted technology development, multiplatform services and revenue partner for video, internet and communications providers, device manufacturers, governments and enterprises, today announced that it plans to begin discussions with AT&T regarding a wind-down and user-migration plan as it has been notified that AT&T intends to select another provider of portal services for its ATT.net consumer experience," Synacor's press release reads.

A Synacor email obtained by The Prospect says that Synacor exceeded all its search, advertising revenue, repeat visitors, and page views right up until the time AT&T announced it was ending the partnership. "There are times in your life, certain things happen that defies [sic] explanation. This decision by AT&T has zero reflection on what this team did or didn't do," a Synacor executive wrote in the email.

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Verizon Wireless has been managing AT&T's Yahoo email service since Verizon officially acquired Yahoo back in June 2017. Now, Verizon is not only managing AT&T's email service, but also its web portal for user accounts. There are more than 9 million monthly unique visitors to AT&T's web portal, giving Verizon access to all that user data the company enjoys.

Apart from these work relationships and benefits, though, AT&T and Verizon are the two top US carriers and are thus, wireless rivals. In that vein, it doesn't compute to some as to why AT&T would give Verizon, its better rival, access to its user account data.

"It's like Coke getting some of its ingredients from Pepsi," one source familiar with the matter said. "That is really strange. When you're in bed with your biggest rival, the tendency will be to walk in lockstep and not fight with each other," says Georgetown Law Institute for Technology & Policy fellow Gigi Sohn.

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There could be a few things at play here. First, it could be that AT&T has formed a trust with Verizon, who has handled its Yahoo email service well for its customers. When you do one job well, the person (or carrier) in charge may hand you another. It's easy to see why Verizon could win such an account with AT&T.

And yet, that answer above seems too simplistic, doesn't it? The reason it seems too simple and too easy an explanation is because it is too easy. The answer can't be that easy because Synacor, the former contractor, did an excellent job with AT&T's web portal. Since Synacor wasn't released because of inefficiency, there must be another reason why AT&T decided Verizon, its rival, was a better partner than the one it already had (Synacor).

Aside from Verizon already working on AT&T's behalf, there is a very real possibility that AT&T and Verizon are working together in this fashion because of a data-sharing deal between them. AT&T is no stranger to illegally sharing customer data. AT&T has had a lawsuit filed against it as of this month, claiming Ma Bell sold location data to third parties Zumigo and LocationSmart. Not only is AT&T accused of sharing customer location data, but they're also accused of selling it for profit.

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What better way to sell customer data than to do so in what seems to be a legal, business relationship, with Verizon as a vendor managing its Yahoo email service and web portal? In that regard, Verizon would have free access to the data in a work relationship that few would presume was illegal. And yet, rival carriers don't enter into these kinds of professional business situations without raising red flags.

If AT&T and Verizon were smaller carriers like Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, or Cricket Wireless, it would still be suspicious but wouldn't amount to much. And yet, AT&T and Verizon have forged a new professional work circumstance just days after the T-Mobile/Sprint merger has been approved.

Sounds like a quid pro quo relationship where AT&T and Verizon are both "scratching each others' backs," proverbially speaking, to get what they want. The question is, for all Verizon is getting out of the deal, what is AT&T getting? The informed answer is that AT&T is likely getting web portal management services for free, saving so many millions a year.

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Still think it's all coincidence?