Where you go and what you view on the Internet is up for sale by your Internet Service Provider. Your Comcasts, CenturyLinks, HughesNets, etc. are drooling over more ways to add pennies to their pocketbooks, and they recently got a big one.
Our wonderful congress, voting along party lines, passed a bill that would allow companies like the behemoth lobby monster Comcast to sell data of where you've been, what your interests are, etc. to the highest bidders. If President Trump signs off, expect targeted marketing to go to a whole other level.
Does this really matter? Yes.
Sure, the big players were already selling user information to some degree, but there were some legal safeguards in place. That's not the case anymore.
In all honesty, you never had true privacy on the Internet — vulnerabilities set up a more dangerous situation should a data breach occur. As all the data and minutia piles up on the users out there (health data, financial data, you name it), there's more for the unscrupulous hackers looking to break into companies like Comcast, AT&T, CenturyLink, etc. to pick from. And let's not forget about the spy agencies that are out there poking around, too.
One more tidbit to scare you, Trump's pick for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Varadaraj Pai, is on record as being against Net Neutrality. If the powers that be have their way, you could find yourself having to pay more for services like Netflix, while companies gain even more control of the Internet and its users, without any federal protections.
There are, however, a couple approaches to make it difficult for them to track and collect your personal data. They are not perfect, but a start.
First, find out if you can opt out of your ISP (Internet Service Provider) data collection policy — don't be afraid to call them and find out. It's hard to argue these practices are beneficial for you anyway.
Second, look at using a different Internet browser like TOR. It basically does it's best to fool your ISP while you're using the Internet. It works like this: Your ISP gives you something called an IP address, a series of numbers that really is more or less like having your house's address; TOR essentially disguises your IP address so the ISP doesn't know it's you. The program is free — another perk — and there's plenty more detailed information on how it works available.
Third, and probably the most useful step, is to subscribe to what's called a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. VPNs provide an anonymous IP address so ISPs will not know when you're online. Some folks that work from home may use a VPN to access their job's computers securely.
There are different approaches you can take with a VPN, I like sharing a so-called IP address with countless others so there's no easy way of determining who is who. Of course, there are ways to hack it, but for your everyday internet user it's pretty safe. Unfortunately, any decent VPN service is not free. I am sure you will see some ads for free ones; I'm here to tell you that they rarely have stringent rules on keeping your data secure. There are countless VPN providers out there claiming they'll do a great job but not all are created equal. The investment in a good one is well worth it.
As for the downfalls to using TOR or a VPN, they can slow your connection speeds down. TOR has you bouncing off of other locations, and with VPNs you're typically connecting to remote locations from the West Coast to Australia. Some locations run faster than others, but it's harder to know what to expect.
So there you are, my fellow Internet browsers. Those of us that believe companies should not be selling us out and controlling what we want to stream over our internet connections are being threatened more and more. Let's stand strong and fight this where and when we can!
Brian Koch is an avid techie who's worked in the tech field for dozens of years with Compaq/HP, his own pc business Techpertise, outdoor photography, and more. He has lived with his wife Stacy in Colorado for over 16 years. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions to Brian: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Techpertise.