This week The House of Representatives voted to repeal FCC Rules which prevented Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) from selling your personal browsing information without your permission. Last week the repeal passed through the Senate as well. What the FCC previously imposed prevented ISP’s from being able to sell your information without first gaining your permission (opting-in) to do so, but also has many limitations. With the repeal of these rules there are essentially no limitations and companies DO NOT have to ask you, you must ask them to stop (opting-out). To add insult to injury, there will be rules put into place to forbid the FCC from putting in similar rules in the future. Awesome (insert sarcasm)! So why does this even matter?
Apps vs ISPs
Let’s be clear…right now anything you do on the internet can be tracked by SOMEONE. For instance, when you first sign-up for a Facebook or other social media accounts, there are a few agreements which you have to check a box for in order to use their services. The average person doesn’t read past the first sentence or two, and many more don’t read anything at all. It’s now in our nature to just check the box and keep it moving. When you do this, often times you are agreeing to many clauses that you have no idea about, and many that you could care less about if you did read them. Some of these clauses do not prevent you from using their apps or websites, while others limit what you’re able to do with their services. Despite this, you have the power of choice! The choice to allow the companies to access this information, and the choice to limit access to certain information. Either way there’s a give and take, especially to use any “free” services like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. I say “free” because it is free to you, but these companies make millions, if not billions from your “free” use of their services.
What’s the big deal?
Well now the ISP’s will have the same ability to sell the information they gather while you’re using these mostly free services, via the internet access that you already pay them for! Not only that, but unlike the individual apps and service providers, your ISP has access to ALL of your internet browsing history. When you use Facebook, Google and Snapchat do not have access to your browsing information. When you buy something on Amazon, Wal-Mart does not have any information on you visiting or purchasing anything from Amazon’s site. Your ISP does! Your ISP, whether your home internet or your mobile phone, has access to every app and website you visit which requires you to use the internet. The argument put forth for repealing these Privacy Rules is that companies like Google and Facebook have an “unfair” advantage over ISP’s since they are able to use and sell the information they gather. Take a look at your phone now and count how many apps you installed that did not already come on your phone…ok don’t count now, it will take you longer to count than it will to finish reading this! Those 100’s of apps most individuals have, especially millennials, only have access to the data you provide within those apps. They do not have access to each other, but your ISP has access to all of them!
What can I do?
There are a few things we all can do, and it comes down to convenience and mindset. Are you apart of the “There’s nothing I can do about it, so just continue about your life as normal.” crowd? If so, skip to the section about benefiting from these rule changes. If you’re part of the “What can I do to limit my exposure crowd, read the next couple of sentences.
Avoid using the internet…yeah right, nice try!
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
What is a VPN? A VPN essentially creates a secure, encrypted connection, between you and the services or websites you visit. Like most things in life, if it’s free, it’s not “free”. You are giving up something to use their services, so choose wisely. Many corporations use Enterprise VPNs to allow their employees access to their internal websites (intranets) or access to applications and software used for their jobs. VPNs are not a new thing, and its users are not to be thought of as those crazy tinfoil hat people who are afraid of everything (even though they use them as well!). NordVPN (which I use) has a great 2 year deal for $3.29 (use code: 2YDEAL17) going on right now! Below are a few other VPN options you can checkout: Also, checkout PC Mag's list of the best VPN options for 2017.
Use a Private Browser or Browser plugin
Tor Browser is an example of a browser you can use to keep your information private when surfing the web. Unlike the browsers you are accustom to using like Google Chrome, Safari, FireFox and others, it is not as user friendly. It does however get the job done to allow you to keep your browsing data safe. Many of you who have heard of Tor Browser before, typically relate it to the use of the Dark or Deep Web. Accessing websites which may contain illegal, or at the very least, disturbing content. Tor browser anonymizes your browsing data, which can be used for these purposes, but also can be used to simply keep your personal information private. There are also private search engines like DuckDuckGo which you can use without a VPN to keep your search data private.
Benefiting from the rule changes
Internet Service Providers
With every change in our laws, you can guarantee there are companies who stand to gain from the changes, our miss out on opportunities to gain. The obvious answer here are the Internet Service Providers. A few of the big players are: Comcast $CMCSA, Charter $CHTR, Verizon $VZ, AT&T $T, Time Warner $TWC, CenturyLink $CTL, Frontier $FTR, and future IPO WideOpenWest $WOW.
Companies can benefit not only from selling your information to advertisers, but also by charging you to keep your information private! If you don’t want to allow your information to be sold, companies can (and likely will) offer pay-for-privacy plans to you to limit what information they will sell about you. AT&T scrapped their previous pay for privacy plan just before the initial limitations were put into place, which are now being removed. Maybe this is why the major mobile carriers are so willing to provide Unlimited Data Plans all of a sudden?!?!? I have a feeling the net neutrality rulings, which prevent an ISP from charging more for access to certain sites or applications, will be the next shoe to drop.
After the repeal passed The Senate, searches for the term VPN skyrocketed! People searched to try and understand what a VPN is, and how it can help individuals protect/prevent their browsing activity from being sold to the highest bidder. Using a VPN isn’t the magical answer to completely wiping away the ability for your information to be sold. What you are essentially doing is transferring the TRUST of access to this data to another entity. If you trust that the VPN provider will not use your information, then this is a great idea. Do your research. Although the purpose of most VPNs is to help keep your data private, it does not mean companies do not have the ability to do the same as ISPs. I’m certain VPN providers will see a short-term bump in sales, as well as a long-term trending increase as more internet users become more informed about its benefits.
At the end of the day, you are in control of the information you provide to the world via the internet. You can choose to allow unfiltered access to your data (do nothing), make changes to the way you use the internet (do something), or choose to not use the internet at all (basically be an odd ball and live off the grid). Each choice has its pros and cons, as well as change in thought and habit. I’m reading a book now titled “They Know Everything About You” and a few others I plan on reading in the future which relate to Privacy. “Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption” and “No Place to Hide”. Check out our links page for books and other recommendations we may have in the future.
Do you use a VPN or do you have experience with private browsers like Tor? How do you feel about financially benefitting from rule changes like these? Leave any comments or thoughts you have below or on our Facebook page! Subscribe to our Blog to receive an email in your inbox when new posts arrive, or follow us on Apple News!
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Akeem The Dream
I enjoy discussing and learning about technology, stocks, sports, and beating my wife at Dominoes! As I learn, I love to share with family and friends so that we can share our knowledge. Thanks for being apart of the journey!