An inglorious attempt to block online privacy regulations to go into effect was made last week by the US Senate and this week’s House decision. Rules proposed by the Federal Communications Commission or FCC to ask for permission before selling your browsing data, even though passed in October of last year, under the Obama administration, had not yet gone into effect.
Data collection and data selling is nothing new under the sun for your ISP, so continuing business as usual, selling your data to the highest bidder without bothering to ask you first, is a real privilege. One very particular privilege that sounds more like stepping on one of our most fundamental rights: the right to privacy.
If you’re anything like me, the whole ordeal sounds a bit exhausting and futile since you don’t have “state secrets to hide”. But having nothing to hide doesn’t make a good case for allowing the abuse here, does it? nor does it set the premise to influence change for the better in a digital world becoming less and less private.
Your exact physical location from minute to minute, the constant monitoring, all the websites you visit, your banking details or social security number, clicks, searches, app downloads and video streams, shopping hobbits, porn preferences and even the content of chats and emails fall under the above litigious case. Sure, you’re going to appear as an ID, a long sequence of numbers, but isn’t that just the coldest of comforts? More, isn’t the social profiling that’s the most dangerous, not to mention annoying? And to add to the conundrum, how is it not having to give consent over sharing this information ever going to lead to a greater good? Can we still talk about thinks like the right to privacy then, when our boundaries have shifted so much we can no longer see where we took the left turn.
Rollback of FCC regulations could mean creating a loophole, to put more “in the gray” a matter that’s already debatable, so the next logical thing is to expect those who will take advantage of these loopholes. Even if we step aside from the bias of politics, regardless if this is a matter of democratic or republican enforcement, where do we, as individuals, draw the line?
The upcoming rule of FCC was going to make it slightly more difficult for your ISP to collect and sell your data to third parties like advertisers, by requiring a customer opt-in. This new privacy rule was set to take effect in December of this year, had it not been for the recent House and Senate vote to remove it.
Already passing the Senate, the companion legislation raises legitimate privacy concerns and President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill.
But how was this even possible and who’s benefitting off of it, you wonder? Passed in 1996 to allow Congress to overrule regulations created by government agencies, The Congressional Review Act (CRA) had been used once prior to 2017. With the new administration however, that took over in January, CRA has proven to be very lucrative, being successfully used 3 times to overturn things like environmental regulations and this time online privacy regulations.
Benefitting at the end of the scheme the rollback creates, stand four big companies as speculated: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and Comcast, all proven to have previously used “in the grey” practices of online personal data collection.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OPT IN AND OPT OUT
there will be voices that will say, there’s no big difference between the opt in policy proposed by democrats versus the opt out advocated by republicans. Don’t believe them, there’s immense difference between the two.
Requesting people to opt in for the collecting and selling of their data to advertisers is reasonably expected to bring infinitely less people volunteering for such a cause, than collecting of data by default. Having to go through exhausting opt out processes will surely make a lot of people put up with the abuse, simply because let’s face it, we have better things to do with our time than constantly monitor our ISPs privacy policies. I would rather get myself a VPN then set a google alert for my ISP’s name and privacy.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
No longer an exotic tool, VPNs are now entering the mainstream and given the context it’s easy to understand why.
Simply put, when you’re using a VPN, all your data travels through a tunnel encrypted from end to end. In other words, your ISP will not be able to make sense of your data, since you’ll have all your online data happen elsewhere, not going through your ISP servers and encrypted all the while.
But it’s not just your ISP that keeps track of your browsing data, it’s your cell phone provider too, most apps, operating systems, and other services do the same.
Smartphones with preinstalled tracking software, secretly bundled with tracking files are sold everyday, while some companies try to leverage the very problem they create by charging extra for privacy.
Having a VPN in place is the smart approach to getting around all this. Think at a VPN as the middleman between you and the internet, where your ISP can only see a bunch of encrypted traffic. And since your VPN knows as much as your ISP would, it’s very important to choose a reliable one with a zero log policy and a strong encryption.
REASONS YOU SHOULD NOT GET A FREE VPN
The phrase “There is no such thing as a free lunch” made popular by Milton Friedman back ’75, remains of great economic relevance today in describing things like “opportunity costs”. However enticing, free VPNs seldom defeat the purpose of what a Virtual private network should be.
· IT AIN’T A FREE LUNCH
A VPN service implies having servers in various countries. The maintenance or renting costs can amount a few figures, depending on volume.
· SELLING USERS BANDWIDTH
“When the product is free. You are the product”-
using their users as servers by converting them into a botnet, some VPN providers have been revealed, while others admit in their lawyer-eese terms of service, they can sell your bandwidth to other companies.
In other words, by searching a bargain you can be faced with two main issues:
1. Slower computer and internet connection: as you’re sharing your bandwidth and processor with others;
2. Higher Security Risks: assuming responsibility for what other users do online, that can be tracked down back to your IP.
A good VPN will have its own servers and encryption protocols designed for it, reducing possible security failures to a minimum. Free VPN services are often an open door to malware and can be easily used by scammers.
In the FREE vs. PAID matter, its is important to understand that most legit businesses will offer 7 days of free trial, but a free connection on a indefinite period of time is sure to get its profit elsewhere; in ways that can harm your security and defeat the whole purpose of having a VPN in the first place.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
- HTTPS : -makes it harder for your ISP to see what you’re doing on any web site, as they can only see that you’re on YouTube, for example, but not what video you’re viewing.
- Disabling cookies or installing an ad blocker: — prevents tracking by conventional ad networks;
- Opting out your ISP
use a different ISP. Not all ISP want to sell their user’s data. In fact, a list of some of the smaller players — including Sonic, Cruzio Internet and Etheric Networks — wrote a letter opposing the repeal of the FCC’s privacy rules. The only problem is that they’re not as wide-spread as the big players and you might not have the luxury to chose a smaller company.
Having a robust VPN to encrypt your personal data is nowadays, the only way to Zion.
And as we’re not looking to exhaust the “hide everything I do” reasoning; we mainly believe that a VPN is not paramount to activity that borders on illegal, but the very symbol of our right to the privacy acumen.