This week, the Senate and House voted to allow Internet Service Providers to sell your browsing history and other private information to the highest bidder without your consent.
We’re no strangers to aggressive advertising – everything from sophisticated AI mechanisms to brute force email blasting barrage us with things to buy or do. But in this historic decision made by the Senate and the House, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are now allowed to release consumer data without the explicit consent of the customer.
That means ISPs can now sell and share you (and your family’s) browsing data and other private information with whoever pays the most for it. The implications of this are huge, of course: those that advocate the release of consumer private information state this measure would eliminate harmful regulations that “stifle economic growth”. But those who oppose worry about the very real violation of privacy that occurs when companies are in an open bidding war for your personal information – that includes financial information, even information on your children and your health. Anything where data can be sold to develop a map that produces profit is vulnerable to this decision making.
Because we’re a culture that digests information digitally, especially via our iPhones, our ISPs know how we respond when we believe we’re ill, what school we’d like our child to attend, what our financial concerns are – probably even better than we know them ourselves. And that’s because our ISPs have free access to our search history, which reveals even our geolocation and our listening and viewing habits.
Think about all the things you’ve searched for on the Internet – if someone could build a portfolio of your life through your search history, it would be a pretty easy project. The time you first bought a car, or a house – the loans you did take out, or didn’t. The time you went to the hospital (or all the times you thought you needed to). Your worries, your interests, your talents, your friends and even your family.
Except that portfolio does exist – and it’s in the hands of your ISP. Once they have that literal goldmine of data, companies can piece together a full picture of our lives – and target their advertising towards it.
Previously, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had planned to have privacy regulations set in place that required an opt-in consent for sensitive information, such as geo-location data, Social Security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and communication content. Not only was this privacy measure overturned, the Senate used the Congressional Review Act to limit the FCC from attempting to create similar rules in the future.
Now this bill, if passed through President Trump’s hands (the final stage), would mean not only could ISPs collect all this information freely, but they could share it without your knowledge.
Darkly, a few senators commented that ISP now stands for “invading subscriber privacy” or “information sold for profit”.
So, how do you protect yourself?
It might seem like the only option at this point is to be sold to the highest bidder or go totally dark – but that’s not the case. Here are three ways you can encrypt your browsing, so that your ISP can’t track your search history or app usage:
Your ISP can’t see what you do when you’re browsing through an HTTPS website. They can see what website you’ve visited, but not the articles you’ve looked through, or the actions you’ve taken. Unfortunately, this is completely in the hands of the websites themselves. If a website doesn’t support HTTPS, then you’re not able to use the website without a recording of your user behaviors.
iPhone users can easily download Tor browsing apps in the Apple App Store to stay anonymous when surfing the web in the Tor browser. Tor preserves the user’s anonymity by routing traffic through different series of relays – so your IP address is hidden, and it appears as though your location is the IP address of a Tor exit relay. The downside? Tor won’t protect you when using Wi-Fi outside of the browser, i.e. with other apps.
The best, simplest and safest solution: pay for a subscription to a Virtual Private Network. Unlike Tor, VPNs are operated by single providers working with a network of private servers. Meaning? Your internet traffic will be fully encrypted and will look like its coming from somewhere other than your house or your iPhone. And while some VPN companies keep logs of your browsing history, it’s a whole lot better than it being sold by an ISP. Luckily, VPNs can be extremely affordable and easy to set up, too.
An ideal VPN privacy solution is this VPN Unlimited: Lifetime Subscription. It operates using 53 locations in 39 countries, protecting Wi-Fi and cellular connections and completely securing your online activity. Named a PC Mag Top VPN for 2016, VPN Unlimited includes both unlimited traffic bandwidth and an unlimited high-speed connection – so you can thwart your ISP provider, and still enjoy your internet, your way.