Last week, Congress officially voted to allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sell your internet browsing habits to the highest bidder. Internet Service Providers can now sell the browsing history to advertisers that are willing to pay for it. Very few customers know the effect of the repeal, and need to be aware of the changes.
Because the proposed bill was scrapped, ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Charter, and many other ISPs now have the ability to track most, if not all of your internet browsing history and data. This data can include browsing history, search terms, streamed videos, downloads, and even your general location. There are, however, several ways to prevent this, protect yourself, and your privacy while online.
Choose a Different ISP
Not all Internet Service Providers want to collect and sell your data to advertisers. A list of smaller ISPs have already written a letter (below) opposing the repeal of the FCC’s privacy rules that were planned to go into effect by the end of the year. The problem is that most Americans cannot chose a different provider because of monopolies or lack of competition in their area, so if they wanted to change, they would not be able to.
Dear U.S. Representatives,
Re: Oppose S.J. Res 34 - Repeal of FCC Privacy Rules
We, the undersigned founders, executives, and employees of ISPs and networking companies, spend our working lives ensuring that Americans have high-quality, fast, reliable, and locally provided choices available when they need to connect to the Internet. One of the cornerstones of our businesses is respecting the privacy of our customers, and it is for that primary reason that we are writing to you today.
We urge Congress to preserve the FCC’s Broadband Privacy Rules and vote down plans to abolish them. If the rules are repealed, large ISPs across America would resume spying on their customers, selling their data, and denying them a practical and informed choice in the matter.
Perhaps if there were a healthy, free, transparent, and competitive market for Internet services in this country, consumers could choose not to use those companies’ products. But small ISPs like ours face many structural obstacles, and many Americans have very limited choices: a monopoly or duopoly on the wireline side, and a highly consolidated cellular market dominated by the same wireline firms.
Under those circumstances, the FCC’s Broadband Privacy Rules are the only way that most Americans will retain the free market choice to browse the Web without being surveilled by the company they pay for an Internet connection.
University of Nebraska
Digital Service Consultants Inc.
Hoyos Consulting LLC
Mother Lode Internet
Gold Rush Internet
Tekify Fiber & Wireless
Davis Community Network
Andrew Buker (Director of Infrastructure Services & Research computing, University of Nebraska at Omaha)
Tim Pozar (co-founder, TwoP LLC)
Andrew Gallo (Senior Network Architect for a regional research and education network)
Jim Deleskie (co-founder, Mimir networks)
Randy Carpenter (VP, First Network Group)
Kraig Beahn (CTO, Enguity Technology Corp)
Chris Owen (President, Hubris Communications)
James Persky (CEO, Pacific Internet)
Brian Worthen, (CEO, Visionary Communications)
With the repeal of the privacy laws, ISPs can now track and sell your data without your outright consent. Customers can, however, can opt out of the data collection. Most ISPs have this option, but they are often hidden on their website and are confusing. Below are a list of some ISPs and the links to their opt out forms. If you cannot find any information on your ISP, give them a call. It should be noted that ISPs CANNOT charge more for a customer opting out of the data collection program.
Opt Out Forms
Comcast – https://www.xfinity.com/support/internet/opt-out-comcast-ads/
Charter – https://pc2.mypreferences.com/Charter/TargetedDigitalMarketingAds
AT&T – https://www.att.com/ecpnioptout/InitiateCPNIForm.action?partner=LinkShare&siteId=TnL5HPStwNw-sIcsPUGxVNSk8FoMK1Fgew
T-Mobile – https://www.t-mobile.com/company/privacy-resources/your-privacy-choices/ad-options.html?clickid=wTEX3r13YV0hXfUV9GWcEzyKUkh3A%3AXd2VrpWQ0&iradid=189313&ircid=3290&irpid=10078&cmpid=WTR_AF_Skimbit%20Ltd.&sharedid=&irgwc=1
Sprint - http://m.sprint.com/mobile/landings/ad_preference.html
No Opt Out Forms
Version - https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/verizon-selects-faqs/
Use a PAID VPN
Virtual Privatized Networks (VPNs) can be another line of defense against an ISP’s collection of your internet data and preferences. A VPN redirects all of your internet traffic to hide where your device is located when it contacts various websites and encrypts the data to anyone who wants to try and intercept it, including ISPs. This method creates another problem, what if VPNs choose to sell your browsing data? A good rule of thumb is to avoid free VPN services. All businesses need to make money and if you are not paying for the service, the have to make revenue somehow, and it is usually by selling data, your data. VPNs can also slow your internet speeds and some web sites like Netflix try to prevent the use of VPNs to stop people from accessing content not licensed in their home country.
There are more options like Tor, but this becomes a more complicated process to set up, making it unattractive for many customers. It is still unknown what ISPs are doing with your data, but it can be inferred that they are profiting from it somehow. Customers need to be aware of the changes because ultimately it is their privacy that is being effected, and ISPs will not stop because people get upset, money is still money. Get informed and protect yourself online!