Internet Privacy and Your ISP: What You Need to Know

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Unless you have been living under a news free rock (and if you have make some room and let me in too) you have probably heard that Congress just passed a law that "stripped us all of our right to privacy." This isn't completely correct. Here is what has happened...

Technically, very little has changed

First of all we need to rewind a few years. The law that congress just passed and is expected to be signed into law by President Trump any day now is a very short and simple law. This new law repeals regulations that protect the privacy of customers of broadband services, including your home ISP. The regulations that are being repealed by this new law were put in place by President Obama just a few months ago (and this is the important part) and has not yet taken effect. So when I say that nothing much has changed that is why. The regulations that Obama enacted to help protect our privacy had not yet been fully enacted. The wording of the new law is below:

Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services”.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services” (81 Fed. Reg. 87274 (December 2, 2016)), and such rule shall have no force or effect.

So now what?

So in summary we have never been truly protected and thanks to the repeal of the law that was soon going to start protecting, us we won't be protected going forward either. Our Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have and will continue to be able to sell our internet browsing history...sort of. Despite what some of the "Go Fund Me" campaigns are claiming, it is not possible to go out and buy an individual's internet browsing history. So as much as I like the idea of buying the internet browsing histories of all the Senators and Representatives that voted to repeal these protections and publish them, this just simply isn't possible. What ISPs can sell is groups or collections of internet browsing history data but not (personalized) down to the individual level (at least not yet).

So your internet browsing data can be used for financial gain by the people you are paying for internet access. This kind of begs the question..."what are you paying your ISP for anyway?" If you are paying them for a service after all, why is it they can turn around and profit even more from you by violating your privacy? Seems like this kind of practice would make customers go somewhere else right? Except in many cases you can't. Most people, depending on where they live, only have one or two options for home internet and since all providers are governed by the same lack of consumer protections there is very little we can do.

The only practical solution left if you want to ensure your internet provider can't profit from your browsing history is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The Mac Observer has a great article on the basics of what a VPN is and some great options for you to purchase a VPN service. In a single sentence, a VPN is just an encrypted tunnel for you to send your internet traffic through. So if you use a VPN the only thing your internet provider sees is that you are accessing the internet via your VPN. The don't know what parts of the web you are visiting besides the VPN server. But its important to realize that your VPN provider now knows what sites you are visiting. So in a way all you have done is shifted that information from once commercial company (your internet provider) to another commercial company (your VPN provider). At the end of the day you need to be able to trust your the company you are doing business with. Start with your internet provider and read their privacy policy. If you don't like their policy or don't trust them then switch to another internet provider you do trust. If you are like most Americans and have little or no choice in internet provider that is when you need to start looking at a VPN. But when considering a VPN serviced you also need to read their privacy policy and at the end of the day be able to trust the company you are doing business with.

In closing, this recent change in laws is really bad news for consumers and all American's right to privacy. The internet is very much a required utility in today's world and we should be able to have access to that utility without compromising our privacy and security. This fight isn't over. You still have elected officials in office and you can still contact them and tell them how angry and disappointed you are with the lack of protection you are being offered by the current laws. There are two major influencers for publicly elected officials...lobbyists (professional advocates that are paid by corporations to influence law makers on their behalf) and voters. Voter influence (public opinion) can be used to influence our elected law makers with just the simple donation of your time and effort. So rather than blindly re-posting a political rant about why this latest change to the law is or is not good, contact your elected officials instead. Even if they voted against this change to the law contact them anyway. The more voters that contact our law makers about this the more likely it is to get their attention so they will do something about it.

How about I make it really easy for you...

Click here to contact your Senator

Click here to contact your Representative in the House

Upgrading to iOS 10.3

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Apple released iOS 10.3 this week, so you should all be seeing a notification on your iOS devices to update to the new OS. WARNING this is a very significant upgrade. With this update Apple has upgraded the underlying file system architecture. What does this mean? To the end user the change is transparent. But because this is such a significant change to every piece of data on your device I highly recommend you have at least one if not two backups of your iOS device before you perform the update. I personally backup my iOS devices to iCloud and then also do an encrypted backup through iTunes to my computer. Also, be aware that the update takes some time. Some reports are that it is taking 20 minutes or more, so make sure you have plenty of time when starting your update.

So far I haven't seen any reports of people having issues with the update, but better safe than sorry...

Build an iTunes Movie Library on the Cheap

This tip is either going to save you a lot of money or it could cause you to spend money you might not have otherwise spent. I've had a really good experience with it, so I wanted to share it with all of you. But if you have tendency to buy too many things because they are a "good deal," you might want to steer clear of this one.

The iOS app is called "Movie of the Day" and it a very simple app that does one thing and does it well. Each day the app highlights a movie in iTunes that is being offered at a discount. The app is developed by Fox Digital Entertainment so it features movies from Fox and MGM that have been put on a 24-hour promotional sale price. The main screen of the app displays the discounted movie of the day. From the main screen you can select the "i" button and find out things like cast and crew, movie review information and a synopsis of the movie. The main screen also displays the sale price, the original price of the movie, a countdown clock showing you how much time you have to take advantage of the deal and a "get in iTunes" button that allows you to purchase the movie right from within the app.

Today's movie of the day, Marley and Me The Puppy Years, is not something me or my family is really interested in. But this isn't the case everyday. My wife quite often runs across a movie that she would like to own, but isn't willing to pay the standard $14.99 for. I have found it is also a great way to slowly add some really great movies from the past to your movie collection without having to shell out a bunch of money all at once. The movies offered tend to be at least several years old and are offered in the $4.99 to $9.99 range and many of the movies featured in these daily deals are quite good (it isn't just for obscure movies). I travel a lot and having a large library of digital movies to take on the plane with me is a must. My wife also like to sit down with a movie on the weekends, so between the two of us this app has given us a cheap way to slowly build up our movie library. You also don't have to buy the movie from within the app to get the deal. If you go to iTunes separately you will see that the movie is discounted there as well. I should also mention that there is an Apple TV version of the app as well. I highly recommend getting the app and getting in the habit of checking it every day. Just don't feel like you have to buy all of the discounted movies....

Phaëton for iOS: The Fictional Video Game from Armada

If you are a retro gaming and 80's pop culture fan like I am then I'm sure you have heard of the novels of Ernest Cline:

Ready Player One

Armada

If you haven't hear of these books, seriously, stop reading this article right now and go buy and read them. But if you have read these books then be sure to check out the free iOS game Phaëton.

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Phaëton is a fictional video game that has a very important role in the book Armada. It is a pretty simple space shooter video game that was developed in junction with Ernest Cline and based on the 1980 Atari game Battlezone. In true Ernest Cline style there are all kinds of references and eater eggs from the book scattered throughout the game. The game itself is a blast to play. I find that it's hard to find a really engaging shooter game in iOS. They are either way too hard or the game mechanics are frustrating. Phaëton gets it just right in my opinion. While the control mechanics were designed specifically for the iOS touch interface and work well, the real kicker to Phaëton is that is also works with the Nimbus Steelseries Bluetooth controller. The Nimbus is a must have if you like to game in iOS or on the Apple TV. In the case of Phaëton it gives the game a true arcade feel.

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I don't have a lot of free time, so the limited time I do I tend to spend on things I truly enjoy. I had a bit of free time this past Sunday morning and came across Phaëton. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that up until then I didn't know this game even existed, and I'm a huge Ernest Cline fan. So big a fan in fact, that I even created my own Ready Player One and Armada playlists in Apple Music and wrote up blog posts for each one (see my posts on the Ready Player One playlist and the Armada playlist). So go download my Apple Music playlist from the novel Armada and get some truly geek time in by playing Phaëton while listening to the Armada playlist. Your welcome...

HeartWatch for iOS and Apple Watch

If you own an Apple Watch then you have a wealth of health data that is automatically being tracked for you, but I bet most of you don't know that data even exists. Apple is pretty good about keeping things simple when it comes to user interface, but sometimes you want to dive a little bit deeper into the data or use it a slightly different way. That is where HeartWatch for iOS and Apple Watch comes in...

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HeartWatch is an app that you download for your iPhone and do most of your interaction with on your iPhone, but its real power is that it harnesses all of the heart rate data that your Apple Watch automatically collects and presents it to you in a really informative way. Here's the real kicker, you have heart rate data stored back to the first day you started wearing your Apple Watch. So right out of the gate you already have a rich archive of data at your fingertips. The HeartWatch app does a really good job of showing you several high level summaries and then within each of these summaries you can dive even deeper into the data.

Notifications:

I'm going start with what is probably the most important feature of the app and in my opinion people should seriously consider buying the app for this feature alone. That feature is notifications. If you press the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner of the app and scroll down to the "Notifications" section you can configure when the app will send you a notification about your heart rate. For example, you can setup the app to notify you via your Apple Watch when your heart rate exceeds a user specified value during a workout or during non-workout times. You can also setup a notification if your heart rate goes too low. You can stop reading this article right now, because this alone is reason enough to get this app. Your Apple Watch is already collecting this data so why not use it to potentially save your life?

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Regular Heartbeat:

The first section of data that is displayed to you within the app is the Regular Heartbeat section. This is your heartbeat when you are not moving, working out or sleeping. The main summary shows you your current heart rate and the average, max and min for the day so far. At the top of the summary you can see the average regular heartbeats for the previous 6 days.

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Waking Heart Rate:

This summary section shows you what your heart rate was when you first woke up each morning for the past 7 days. Obviously you have to wear your Apple Watch while you sleep in order for it to give you this information. Why would anyone care about their heart rate when they first wake up? When you first wake your heart rate should be at an all time low. So if you have a morning or two when your heart rate is higher than other mornings that might indicate that you didn't sleep well or were not sleeping deeply right before waking up. Also, if you exercise regularly and are getting into better and better cardiovascular shape you should see your waking heart rate slowly go down over time.

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Sleeping Heartbeat:

The next summary is about your heart rate over the entire night when you are sleeping and not just the instant you wake up. Just like the Regular Heartbeat summary it shows you the average for the past night's sleep as well as the maximum and minimum heart rates during the night and the time at which each occurred.

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If you press the circle that displays the average heart rate for the night it takes you into a more detailed view. In the detailed view you see all of the heart rate values taken throughout the night. The timeline at the top shows you a couple of things. The blue bars at the bottom is your heart rate and the green bars at the top of the timeline shows any movement that you making during the night. If the green bars dip down to the red line or below then you were most likely awakened at that point in the night. The sections of the timeline where there are no green bars indicates a period of deep sleep.

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Sleep Recharge:

This section of the main summary page is just a simple indicator of how much sleep you have been getting. Within the app you can configure how much sleep you need to feel rested (for me it is somewhere between 7 and 8 hours). Based on that number this summary tells you how well you "recharged your batteries" the night before and all of the previous week.

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Dashboard:

Along the bottom of the app is a row of icons and the second icon from the left is the Dashboard icon. This take you to the Dashboard, which is a great way to view a bunch of different summaries all within a single and east to read view. The first view in the Dashboard is the activity view and it show you a summary of the stats around your movements for the past day (like your activity rings, calories burned, duration of exercise and the number of hours you hit your stand goal). The next summary view (press the heart icon towards the bottom under the gauges) is the heart rate summary. This shows you all of the various summaries concerning your heart rate (like your percent recharge based on sleep, your average sleeping heart rate, your waking heart rate and your average workout heart rate). The main Gauge in this view shows your regular heart rate along with an indicator of whether your average heart rate is elevated with respect to your recent days measurements. The last summary on the Dashboard is your footsteps summary. This shows you things like your weight, the number of steps you have taken and how many calories you have burned. Each of these summary views in the dashboard can be displayed for various time periods (Day, Week (the current week), Last (the last 7 days) and by Month).

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HeartWatch is seriously deep when it comes to harnessing the health data your Apple Watch is already collecting about you. If you want to take full advantage of this data this app is a great way to do it.

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