Data Research Courtesy of AT&T

I last used AT&T’s wireless subscriber website to pull some raw data on my phone calls and text messages to present to a judge.

Today I visited the website and found that AT&T was still showing my water damaged iPhone 5 as my primary device. This has not been true for some time, and it appeared that I was still being charged for the data plan. A phone call rectified this issue and netted me credits that covered the erroneous data plan charges.

AT&T and every other corporation is making an effort to move away from mailing paper statements in the interests of saving money (okay, they also do this to help the environment, protect client information, etc.)

AT&T allows customers to view up to 16 months of bill and payments history through their customer web portal, but what if I was interested in getting data that went further back? Their policy states, “We will provide your past bill and payments information free of charge once a year, but there is a $5.00 fee for each additional request”.

I have a personal interest in seeing my text and call history spanning a 24 month period. To get the data that I was after, I first approached their live chat..

I informed the AT&T live chat representative that I was looking for a record of all calls and text messages for my phone line for a 24 month period outside of the window allowed by the website. She understood my request and let me know about the $5.00 fee for each reprinted bill.

Then I contacted AT&T on the phone..

The customer service representative that I spoke with on the phone placed me on hold while doing some research into my account. He stated that it would normally cost $5.00 * 24 = $120 to get the information that I was requesting, though I could probably get it for half of that at $60. Additionally, the information would be sent over in paper format, as it can’t be sent in a digital file format.

I requested that the CSR submit a complaint on my behalf and stated that it was absurd that a technology company couldn’t furnish this information in a format that I could work with immediately, and that getting this information required an outlay on my part. The CSR submitted the complaint and stated that he could get the reprints over to me for no charge.

I told him that I appreciated the offer, but that I needed to have my records in a digital file format so that I could work with them immediately. I have tried digitizing a large volume of paper in the past, and it’s not an activity that I would like to revisit, especially when an alternative probably exists.

My case might not be typical — few people, I’m sure, are actually interested in combing through their phone records to look for trends.

Yet there are cases where a legitimate need exists for an individual to get access to backlogs. In my case, I’m experimenting with data visualization to build a compelling history of events.

I am dumbfounded that AT&T’s representatives claimed that there was no way to get a digital copy of the records that I requested. If a law enforcement agency made a request to AT&T for my communications history, would AT&T send them everything in paper, with a turnaround time of five to seven working days?