been getting a lot of questions about the recent bill that passed allowing
internet service providers (ISP’s) to sell your personal browsing and location
information to other companies. Though we consider ourselves to be pretty
liberal, we feel that many of these articles have been written in a misleading
way with the intent of invoking rage against the president/government and to
get you to click/ share them. Let’s clear up a few things:
bill is not here to change anything. The rules that were meant to protect us
from ISPs selling our information were only going to go into effect on December
2017. This bill delays them further, meaning that we were never protected to
begin with. In reality, nothing has changed. All of your browsing information
could be, and probably has been sold in many different ways.
rules were only supposed to regulate our internet service providers. They were
never meant to include websites like Google or Facebook, who, in reality, have
much more detailed information about who you are and what you do online, and
are more skilled and motivated than ISP’s in selling your information and make
though the government isn’t protecting you from any of those companies and
never has, each internet service provider and website have their own privacy
protection policy. You can read Verizon’s here and Time Warner's here. They
both say that although they might sell your information, it will only be after
it has been “de-identified for business and marketing uses.” In other words,
your service providers are promising you that they won’t sell what Bob Smith
was searching for on Monday, but they will tell Honda how many 30-45 year old
men were searching for car related terms in the days following the Super Bowl.
This is really not that different than what Facebook does openly on a daily
What can you do to protect yourself?
Look for the lock!
Most websites that involve shopping or a login option will have a secure
version, which your browser will identify for you by adding a little lock sign
in front of the URL in the address bar. This lock means that the information
that is being sent to and from the site is being encrypted, so that anyone
encountering this information online, be it your ISP or some other relay server
connecting you to this website, cannot decipher it. This approach, though not
full proof, makes it difficult for your ISP to know what you're doing once
you’re logged into these kinds of websites.
programs that have a weekly updated list of “bad” servers; ones that are known
for tracking information and spreading malware or pushing ads. Once you've
installed the program on your desktop, it simply monitors the network activity,
immediately blocking any communication to those listed servers. These lists can
sometimes be a bit harsh, so you'll often find yourself disabling them just to
browse the web uninterrupted. However, they are free, easy to run, and provide
some amount of protection. We recommend PEERBLOCK for Windows PCs and
PEERGUARDIAN for Mac OS.
VPN (Virtual Private Networks) are ultimately the best way to
hide everything you do online. You can install them on your computer or phone
and they will relay every single bit of data through an encrypted server that
will mask its origin completely. This is how internet users in China get
through the Great Firewall the Chinese government uses to block its internet.
The downside, however, is that VPNs cost money and can slow down your
connection speed a little, though for most people it is unnoticeable. One of
the best VPNs out there is IP Vanish and you can sign up for it using this
Onion Routers) browser is a free program you can install on your computer. It
was originally developed by the U.S. Navy to browse the internet anonymously.
Now it's a non-profit organization whose main purpose is the research and
development of online privacy tools. The TOR network disguises your identity by
moving your traffic across different TOR servers, encrypting that traffic so it
isn't traced back to you. Anyone who tries would see traffic coming from random
nodes on the TOR network rather than your computer. Though it's free, it's
incredibly slow and can be a bit frustrating to use. You can download it here.