FOR SALE: Your Browsing History — So What Can You Do?
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What does your privacy mean to you? This is a human right, so consider your response carefully. You might value it a great deal, or you might figure that it’s no big issue because you don’t do anything wrong. There’s a considerable problem if you answered the latter — and indeed the former, because while privacy might be paramount to you, it’s a commodity to a vast number of services.

However much you value your privacy as a concept, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can soon put a price tag on it.

And without your consent.

What’s Actually Happened?

During Barack Obama’s time in the White House, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that ISPs must obtain the permission of their users before selling personal data on.

That bill will be repealed, pending a virtually-inevitable signature from President Trump.

FOR SALE: Your Browsing History -- So What Can You Do? 15870725062 b558db7484 k
Image Credit: Diego Cambiaso via Flickr.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution passed by the Senate last week, and the House of Representatives approved it on 28th March 2017, meaning ISPs are just waiting for the final word from the President.

The Broadband Consumer Privacy Proposal would likely have come into play by the end of this year. But if it’s wiped from the slate, providers can carry on collecting and selling your information as they please.

Of course your data is being sold on already; namely to advertisers How Exactly Websites Track and Stalk You With Their Ads How Exactly Websites Track and Stalk You With Their Ads Privacy, privacy, privacy. The Internet is known for its anonymity. Without personal privacy, it would be a very dangerous place. But are these companies infringing on privacy rights? How exactly does a website track its... Read More , so your internet experience is a uniquely personal one. Personalized advertising space can command big bucks. Everything you see can be targeted right at you. You already see personalized content, so that might not seem a massive problem to you right now, but it really is a big concern, especially considering such information would include your browsing history, geolocation data, and potentially financial details (knowing which bank you visit online Is Online Banking Secure? 5 Risks That Should Worry You Is Online Banking Secure? 5 Risks That Should Worry You There's a lot to like about online banking. It's convenient, can simplify your life, you might even get better savings rates. But is online banking as safe and secure as it should be? Read More , for instance).

The soon-to-be-repealed rule also would’ve forced ISPs to let their users know when a breach occurs. If a hacker gets hold of your details, you’d want to know about it, right? However, not knowing might be a good thing Why Companies Keeping Breaches a Secret Could be a Good Thing Why Companies Keeping Breaches a Secret Could be a Good Thing With so much information online, we all worry about potential security breaches. But these breaches could be kept secret in the USA in order to protect you. It sounds crazy, so what's going on? Read More , at least in some circumstances.

What Does This Mean for You?

We’ve been warned for years that browsing history could be leaked Porn Viewing Habits Could Be the Next Big Leak: Here's What To Do Porn Viewing Habits Could Be the Next Big Leak: Here's What To Do A software engineer has recently warned that you should expect your Internet history, specifically any adult sites you've visited, to be leaked. What can you do about this? Read More , and used against us. This feels like a step towards that.

The significance of this might not be so evident. A lot of your life is already detailed on the internet. Google collects data all the time Five Things Google Probably Knows About You Five Things Google Probably Knows About You Read More . Facebook knows so much about you, it can even identify what you look like Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook knows a surprising amount about us – information we willingly volunteer. From that information you can be slotted into a demographic, your "likes" recorded and relationships monitored. Here are 25 things Facebook knows about... Read More . The problem is, social media and even search engines are not all-consuming. They’re pretty easy to escape. Don’t want Facebook to know your interests? Don’t ‘like’ anything. Worried Google has a monopoly on what you enjoy? Switch to a private tool.

FOR SALE: Your Browsing History -- So What Can You Do? 14565098617 a8e1373a19 h
Image Credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr.

But evading the watchful eye of your ISP is like Winston Smith’s struggle against Big Brother.

You might feel assured that going on a site using HTTPS means a certain level of encryption What Is HTTPS & How To Enable Secure Connections Per Default What Is HTTPS & How To Enable Secure Connections Per Default Security concerns are spreading far and wide and have reached the forefront of most everybody's mind. Terms like antivirus or firewall are no longer strange vocabulary and are not only understood, but also used by... Read More ; that’s true, but it only makes it (next to) impossible for third-parties to note down your passwords. An ISP can still see the domain you’re visiting.

We should question what’s made the majority of the population give up their right to privacy Why Have Americans Given Up On Privacy? Why Have Americans Given Up On Privacy? A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication concluded Americans are resigned to giving up data. Why is this, and does it affect more than just Americans? Read More . Is it in fear of terrorism? Just as a consequence of political movers How the UK's Snooper's Charter Could Affect the Whole World How the UK's Snooper's Charter Could Affect the Whole World The Investigatory Powers Bill, better known as the "Snooper's Charter", is here. You might think it only affects the UK, but you'd be wrong. This affects everyone, across the whole world. Read More ? Or, more worryingly, don’t people value online anonymity as they should 3 Undeniable Reasons Why You Need Online Anonymity 3 Undeniable Reasons Why You Need Online Anonymity Many people don't believe in online anonymity, mainly because it has the potential to enable and encourage undesirable behavior. But without anonymity, people's lives can easily be ruined forever... Read More ?

Interestingly, this comes about a year after Verizon was fined $1.35 million by the FCC for subjecting its users to “supercookies” without getting their expressed permissions. Yes, just $1.35 million. You have to wonder how much money Verizon has made from these trackers which give advertisers a permanent profile of browsing habits…

What Can You Do About It?

As previously noted, you already have to be careful online because search engines (most of them, at least Get A Better Search Experience With Duck Duck Go Get A Better Search Experience With Duck Duck Go It seems that there are a couple of services and Linux distributions (such as Linux Mint) that are switching over to Duck Duck Go as their default search engine. So why the heck are they... Read More ) track you. Similarly, social media can be to blame Three Reasons To Believe Facebook Might Be Used to Spy On You Three Reasons To Believe Facebook Might Be Used to Spy On You Facebook could be used against you. Privacy is something that should concern everyone, yet social networking blurs the line between right and wrong. Read More . Take sensible precautions against these: manage your Facebook privacy settings 4 Vital Facebook Privacy Settings You Should Check Right Now 4 Vital Facebook Privacy Settings You Should Check Right Now Facebook's been changing privacy options again. As usual, the default option is for you to be oversharing your details, so here's what you need to know to set things right. Read More because details gleaned from there can be used to customize adverts all over the web, for instance.

Use HTTPS whenever you can, of course, but this won’t stop ISPs snooping.

Your first port of call is to inquire with your ISP. Check their Terms and Conditions: some may offer a way to opt-out. Repealing the bill leaves a lot of ambiguity in relation to Title II, Section 22 of the Communications Act. This was written in 1996 to cater for telephonic services, so it’s had to be updated to include specifications about the internet. Dallas Harris, Legal and Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge, said:

“It’s just not clear what information [ISPs are] going to require an opt-in for and what information they’re going to require an opt-out for. That will all be up to the ISP to determine what they feel they need to get opt-in for as opposed to opt-out.”

If they don’t, contact them and ask why not. Using a social platform like Twitter might give you some leverage, and spread the message. You’re a valued customer; they should respect your thoughts on the matter.

Otherwise, you’re not helpless. Drastic action might mean switching to a provider who takes your privacy seriously. Numerous smaller ISPs unsuccessfully urged US Representatives to reinforce the Broadband Consumer Privacy Proposal, stating that they value your privacy. These include Gold Rush Internet, Etheric Networks, and Pacific Internet.

Another option is of course to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) What Is The Definition Of A Virtual Private Network [Technology Explained] What Is The Definition Of A Virtual Private Network [Technology Explained] Read More . These encrypt all communications, so your ISP can see you’re using a VPN, but not which domains you’re visiting 6 Logless VPNs That Take Your Privacy Seriously 6 Logless VPNs That Take Your Privacy Seriously In an age where every online movement is tracked and logged, a VPN seems a logical choice. We've taken a look at six VPNs that take your anonymity seriously. Read More . See our list of the best VPNs The Best VPN Services The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More for more details (our favorite is ExpressVPN).

Tor, meanwhile, masks your IP address, so traffic only displays as coming from an exit node. Whichever VPN service you go for The Best VPN Services The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More , you can rest assured that you’re doing all you can to stay private.

Is There Anything Else You Can Do?

Finally, it’s worth keeping an eye on Max Temkin, creator of Cards Against Humanity. Once this bill’s repealed, Temkin plans to purchase and publish the browsing histories of the congress members who voted to get rid of these privacy restrictions. It’s in an effort to show that selling browsing data works both ways; or as campaign director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer puts it:

“Congress should know by now that when you come for the Internet, the Internet comes for you.”

You could also check out SearchInternetHistory, run by privacy advocate, Adam McElhaney. He’s received some flak for setting up a GoFundMe page. Nonetheless, we should still encourage anyone fighting the good fight!

Does the repeal particularly bother you, or do you think it’s merely business as usual? Do you have any other tips for staying anonymous? And do you think this is indicative for the future of ISPs worldwide?

Image Credit: Andy Dean Photography via Shutterstock.com

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  1. Howard A Pearce
    April 3, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    "What does your privacy mean to you? This is a human right, so consider your response carefully."

    The writer never tells us what this right is or where it comes from or upon what it is based.

    "During Barack Obama’s time in the White House, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that ISPs must obtain the permission of their users before selling personal data on."

    In other words the government will determine what data is personal or not - at least the writer seems to simply assume the government knows what is personal or not.
    The first problem with the idea is that information or data cannot be owned - unless you accept the false concept of intellectual property rights where people are allowed to own these things - like you reputation merely made up of what others believe.

    Since the write never tells us where privacy comes from or what it really is, I will offer a view.
    It comes from your right to personal property which allows you to keep data or information private to begin with -like on your computer or locked away somewhere.
    Imagine a world were everything is public (including property) - would there be any privacy in such a world ? If not, what conclusions can you draw from that?

    People only have privacy in locations that are itself private .

    • Philip Bates
      April 30, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Hi Howard. I'm the writer in question. I didn't think it appropriate to write about what privacy is or its importance because other articles on MUO already do that. I think it was enough to touch upon, but that really wasn't my purpose for writing. Plus, the definition of privacy does indeed change from person to person, and I can get behind your definition of it. As for what you say about the government deciding what is personal and what isn't, I do agree - huge grey area. I've written about that elsewhere too, though I can't right now think where. Thanks for commenting.