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Ksenia Semenova
31 March 09:37.
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What does the vote to allow internet service providers sell browsing data to marketers mean for the end users and what they can do about it?
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How can you protect your personal information and browsing history from ISPs?

One word – ENCRYPTION! Do you know what encryption is? This is your best bet to protect your browsing history from your ISP. There are various services on the internet that let you encrypt your data and internet traffic so unauthorized people and organizations cannot trace or track your browsing history or link it back to your IP address. There are three primary ways to encrypt your data, so you can have the best online protection coupled with anonymity: VPN services, Tor & HTTPS. While not a perfect solution, it helps to cloud the vision of anyone watching, making their job harder. Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Technologist Jeremy Gillula explains that “Your ISP can see that you’re using a VPN or Tor but that’s all they’ll see.”

A VPN might be a more secure option since it encrypts your data – Tor doesn’t – and you don’t need to worry about the person operating the exit node – which is the exact case in Tor. On the flip side, each VPN is operated by a single provider while Tor is a distributed network that tries to preserve anonymity by routing traffic through a series of relays. Another issue is that VPNs are unregulated and could theoretically sell that data off the same way. So, while choosing a VPN you have to make sure that the service you are trusting with your data is not be based in any of the 14 eyes countries, especially the US, because VPN providers based in the US could be pressured to share or hand over users’ data to ISPs or government agencies.

It is worth considering looking at providers like PureVPN who are based in countries like Hong Kong or Ivacy VPN which is a Singapore-based VPN provider and has a no-log policy. Switzerland is another good option due to their privacy laws.

Talking about the last method mentioned above; HTTPS Everywhere browser extension provides users a secure connection to a particular website, which lets you know whether your connection to a particular web site is encrypted or not. Your ISP can’t see what you do on an HTTPS-enabled website. Your ISP knows when you visit https://google.com, but it doesn’t know what you searched on Google if HTTPS is enabled.

First, let’s take a look at what has happened this week.

The U.S. Senate voted to roll back a regulation on internet privacy that was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration back in 2016.

These rules gave people the option to decide how their personal data – such as web browsing history –  was used and shared by internet service providers (ISPs). People could choose whether they wanted to give the ISPs an affirmative consent to use and share sensitive information with advertisers and other third parties – or not.

President Trump is expected to sign this new resolution into effect. The decision to eliminate this rule means that consumers will no longer be in control of what’s going to happen to their personal browsing data. It will be up for sale to marketers and the like.

Now let’s see why you should be worried.
Your ISP – your window into your internet connection – is able to track whatever it is you do online. Every site you visit, every download you make. Having access to this data gives an enormous advantage to marketers – they’ll get to know your browsing habits intimately and will bombard you with advertising accordingly. Even your search results can be rewritten based on this, and instead of finding relevant information you are looking for, you’ll get redirected to sponsored websites.

What can you do?

You could start using a Virtual Private Network – a VPN – that encrypts your traffic, thus preventing your ISP from being able to get closely acquainted with your browsing patterns. However, what happens is that you pay the VPN for not keeping records of your activity – and yet the VPN itself would still have access to your browsing data just like the ISPs do. You would need to put your trust into your VPN and hope they will not, under any circumstances, monetize your data.

Before you decide whether you want to do it or not, you should really get to know your browsing history yourself. Being able to see what those that are spying on you are seeing will give you the overview of what kind of personal data you could be leaking to third parties. You could try the Vivaldi browser, which now has a built-in History functionality that allows you to analyze your browsing trends – without collecting or storing any of your personal data, which stays local to your computer. Getting to know your browsing history is an important step to take at this point, and by having access to this data, you can make a call on whether or not you want to adjust your online behavior.

Privacy matters

Personally, I would like to see much stricter laws in place to protect people’s privacy. Not the kind of regulations that make it an option to sell private data under special circumstances, the interpretation of which can vary greatly. Ideally, governments should be aiming to put stricter rules in place and not weaken the existing ones.

There is a clear link between the lack of strict privacy regulations and the ability to target people with tailored “fake news” and propaganda. The fact that it is so easy to

target people means that it’s possible to send out customized “fake news”.

Targeting people with monetized – or politically skewed – information would be a lot harder with stricter privacy laws. It is possible to fix two problems at the same time. Enhance privacy and reduce the ability to send customized content and advertising. I see that as a win – better privacy and better democracy.

The Internet we love is under attack, and defence is crucial. Start with boosting privacy.