At the end of March 2017, The House of Representatives and the Senate voted to reverse the landmark Federal Communications Commission (FCC) privacy protection regulation that requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to get consumers' permission before selling their data. The President is supportive of the roll back bill, meaning it’s unlikely he will veto the measure.
Just to be clear, ISPs (such as Charter, TimeWarner and Verizon) necessarily carry much of your traffic data and this allows them understand what you do online, especially your search data. Although you can switch from Google to Firefox, switching your ISP (many of which are often monopolies) to one that protects your privacy isn’t as easy. As former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told the Huffington Post, “…if I don’t like the practice of my network provider, I’m out of luck.”
Understanding consumer concerns, some ISPs are taking steps to revise and/or put in place privacy policies to ensure protection from data mining. Gerard Lewis, chief privacy officer and deputy general consul at Comcast said that Comcast doesn’t share certain customer information without consent and offers an opt-out to not receive targeted ads.
But since it’s likely that the roll back bill will become law, here’s what can you do to protect your online privacy.
Virtual Private Network
Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a common way corporations shield data, especially for remote employees or those who work outside the corporate environment (for example, while traveling or using a coffee shop Wi-Fi). The VPN encrypts web traffic and data as it travels from the device, through the ISP and through a private server before it reaches its target internet destination.
VPNs don’t protect your data from tracking software or other types of fingerprinting and tricky cookies.
Since there is nothing regulating VPNs, so be sure that the VPN encrypts both your data AND guarantees that it won’t collect or use your data. The safer VPNs usually are fee-based, so because of this roll back, Internet users will probably need to pay a small fee for privacy.
Although it may not be displayed very web address starts with http:// and these days there is a more secure version you might see: HTTPS. This is the encrypted version of HTTP. Encryption is better than none as the ISP can see the site you’re browsing, but not deep diving into what you browse within the site. Even with HTTPS becoming more standard, ISPs tracking the domain you visit can still yield sensitive information such as health conditions, intervention resources or political affiliation.
Not every website has HTTPS and some may not serve it to the user by default. But there are some plug-ins that force sites to provide HTTPS when available. The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides one such plug-in; you can view a plug-in list from LifeHacker here.
Though the government looks to be paving the way for ISPs to sell your data, you can be assured that, unlike some of the large ISPs, Digital West will never sell your personal information.
On March 29th, Digital West's President & CCO Jeff Buckingham and COO Michael Boyer talked with KVEC's radio host Dave Congalton about Internet privacy and the roll back implications. To get a good understanding of how this measure can affect you, listen to the broadcast here.
Learn more about Congress overturning the Internet privacy regulation here.