Internet Privacy and Your ISP: What You Need to Know


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 The regulations that are being repealed by this new law were put in place by President Obama just a few months ago (and this is the important part) and has not yet taken effect.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

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