Tech Talk: The Wild West of Internet Privacy

By Monica Spilman | Posted on 05.17.17 – Lifestyles, Tech Talk

Last month, Congress voted to nullify the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband privacy rules. Most of the news coverage of this historic move focused on the fact that it essentially made it legal for internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to gather and sell your individual browsing history to third parties. This includes financial information, health information, what their customers are shopping and searching for, and geographically where they are doing these things. Despite the minimal media attention the legislation received before it was signed, its passage has been met with a very loud, visceral response.

Surprisingly, however, the emphatic response has also included equally loud and emphatic cheers of approval. Proponents of the new law say that the FCC’s regulations that have now been repealed were never about protecting consumers’ privacy to begin with, and repealing them clears the way for better regulation and a freer marketplace. This is because it restores the policing power to the Federal Trade Commission, which had been overseeing the entire realm since the birth of the internet up though 2015.

Many ISPs have responded to the backlash by promising that they will not sell the data, but this does not change the fact that they will legally be allowed to do so. That is why many people have turned back to typewriters instead of word processors, Polaroid instead of smart phones, and fax instead of email. While these steps may seem a bit extreme, there are actually a few steps we can take without drastically turning back the clock. It goes without saying that the higher volume of sensitive data for which you utilize the web, the more important these steps may be. Regardless, at the very least they will help to protect our privacy and, yes, our sanity.

Install “HTTPS Everywhere” on your browser—When you’re browsing a website using HTTPS, the ISP can detect only which website you’re on, but not which specific page you’re visiting. This extension will automatically check the websites you go to, and if they have an HTTPS option, it will use that as the default.

Use encrypted messengers—When you use apps like Signal or WhatsApp instead of email, it makes it impossible for ISPs to identify to whom you are talking. They can only see that you are using the app. These apps function just like text message or instant message apps and are available on both on desktops and smartphones.

Consider a Virtual Private Network—VPNs cloak each user’s web-surfing history by creating an encrypted connection to a private server, which then searches the web on the user’s behalf. This makes it impossible for your ISP to see what website you are on, from where you are accessing the web, or what app you are using.

Frankly, regardless of how this battle shakes out, this serves as a reminder that nothing is sacred in the wild, wild West of the internet.

Monica Spilman is a Digital Marketer at 270net Technologies, a digital marketing and website design firm in Frederick. Contact 270net at 301-663-6000 or visit www.270net.com.