March 29, 2017
Republicans just voted to roll back FCC privacy protections that would have prevented your internet service provider from selling your private browsing history.
After passing the Senate earlier in the week, the House approved a measure on Tuesday which would allow broadband providers like AT&T, Spectrum or Comcast to sell your online data to marketers (as well as corporate and government spies).
The vote in both chambers was split along party lines, with the GOP voting in favor of selling your porn habits to just about anyone who cares to pay for them, including maybe future employers. Naturally, many of these legislators were also the recipient of large donations from the telecommunications industry.
The vote freed ISPs of “protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers,” according to Brian Fung of The Washington Post. The rules also mandated that ISPs offer their customers stronger protection against hackers.
Not only would the bill, which Pres. Donald Trump is expected to sign into law, roll back the privacy protections which were finalized in October 2016 and due to go into effect at the end of the year, it would also block the FCC from ever writing similar regulations again.
In a March 19 analysis, Jeremy Gillula, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, outlined “five creepy things” your ISP can do without these protections in place. In addition to selling your data to marketers, ISPs can hijack your search results to suit their (or advertisers’) whims, insert additional advertising into your online experience, or even slip secret tracking cookies into all your unencrypted web traffic.
Worst of all, Gillula noted that all of these bad ideas have already been implemented to one extent or another, even before Congress voted to piss all over your privacy, but there’s every reason to believe these corporations will be emboldened now that they know that the FCC won’t try to put the brakes on their greed.
There are inexpensive ways to protect yourself from most of this creepy shit. The simplest method, suitable for most of us, is to use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. Originally created for corporate security, today the most common use of VPNs is to provide an extra layer of privacy from anyone — like ISPs — that want to snoop on your browsing. With a VPN, all your internet traffic will first pass through your VPN provider’s servers, which will mean fewer records of where you’ve been and little to no data for your ISP to sell.
It’s possible, and relatively simple, to setup a VPN on Windows, Mac OS, and both iOS and Android phones. Since there are so many options, rather than recommend a specific VPN, I recommend you look for a good deal on VPN access, then check that company’s reviews on security blogs. You shouldn’t have to pay much money for a reasonably safe and reliable VPN provider.
Keep in mind, while a VPN should protect you from ISPs selling your browsing history and some other security risks, it won’t provide total anonymity or significant protection from police or government surveillance. You’ll still need to take additional steps, like using encryption through apps like Signal, to protect your communications, especially if you’re engaged in activism.
Beyond these immediate concerns, we can expect this anti-privacy bill to be the first of many attacks on our online freedoms coming down the pike. Since our lives increasingly depend on the internet, we all need to be more watchful for the next attack.
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