If you’re like many people, you probably haven’t stopped to think about how valuable your internet browsing data might be, but believe us when we tell you it’s a gold mine of information for advertisers. And now that Congress has repealed the internet privacy protections that had been approved by the FCC under the Obama administration, it’s becoming increasingly certain that internet service providers (ISPs) will legally be allowed to track and sell your personal browsing information without having to ask your permission.
Think that browsing in private or incognito mode will save you from being targeted? We have bad news for you. While this does prevent the browser (such as Google) from keeping a record of the websites you’ve visited during any given session, your ISP still has full access to your complete browsing history. Since they’re the ones connecting you to the internet, they can basically see your every online move.
So how do you retain your privacy in this brave new world?
- Use a Virtual Private Network (also known as a VPN). This technology encrypts all the information you send from your device and makes it unreadable to anyone – including your ISP. There are lots of VPNs on the market, and some are better than others, but be forewarned, especially if you’re used to browsing at lightning fast speeds, you’ll almost certainly notice a slow down when you browse through a VPN. And many internet streaming services, such as Netflix, cannot be accessed through a VPN connection.
- Opt out of data collection with your ISP. Although it is unclear whether an opt out option will be mandated, we expect that most ISPs will offer an opt out option to avoid negative publicity. The major thing to note here is that if you don’t take the initiative to opt out (which will likely require jumping through a few hoops with a telephone representative) the assumption is that you have opted in, and your data will be free for the taking (and selling).
- Run your browsing through Tor. Tor is free software designed to enable anonymous communication. This is accomplished by directing internet traffic through a network of volunteer operated servers which allows for a user’s location and usage to be concealed from anyone conducting surveillance – including your ISP. But again, Tor’s security benefits come at the cost of decreased internet speeds and sometimes awkward functionality.
Whether you decide to share your information with your ISP (and thereby advertisers) or not is a personal decision. Allowing companies to have access to your browsing history may mean you get better, more targeted deals than those who opt out or circumvent traditional browsing methods. But is saving a few pennies worth giving up your privacy? Let us know what you think!