Tags: isp | data | privacy | vpn | library

Now That ISPs Can Sell Your Data, Should You Use VPN or the Library?

Now That ISPs Can Sell Your Data, Should You Use VPN or the Library?
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Monday, 10 April 2017 12:36 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Welcome to the private information free-for-all where, thanks to Congress, every move you make online can be sold to the highest bidder. But is there a way to still keep your private moments private?

"Congress Let Internet Providers ‘Spy on’ Your Underwear Purchases" was just one of the countless headlines seen after Republicans in Congress passed a joint resolution (now signed by President Trump) that reversed an Obama-era FCC rule that prohibited the sale of sensitive customer information by internet service providers without the consumer’s consent. There were also provisions that would have helped better protect consumers’ data from hacker exploits.

The resolution cleared the way for ISPs such as Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to sell users’ complete unabridged browsing history, details about their app usage and even the content of communications, which the FTC last year said included the body of email messages and posts to social media. All this would be buyable by marketing companies, advertisers, and any other third party who might want to buy it.

The reaction from privacy and data security watchdogs was swift.

In a letter to seven ISPs last week, a group of lawmakers protested. "Broadband providers should follow strong privacy and security rules that give consumers control over how their information is used and shared, as well as confidence their information will be protected," said Democratic Senators Ed Markey, Al Franken, Richard Blumenthal,  Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, Patrick Leahy, and Chris Van Hollen. Independent Bernie Sanders was the seventh co-signer.

The lawmakers specifically queried if consumers were going to be offered the ability to "pay for privacy." It was an apt question.

This latest assault on consumer privacy is a blow to the best trends on the business side of cybersecurity and privacy. Even in the face of the most idiotic government decisions, the market increasingly drives cybersecurity and privacy practices in the business sector. This is a situation where being pro-consumer privacy goes hand-in-glove with making more money because when people find consumer-friendly products and services, they talk about it — whether it is a good deal on something, great customer service, or a respectful, transparent environment that protects consumer interests. Why? Because privacy and security are marketable.

This is why I’m not too worried about the things that the EFF warned about in the wake of the Congressional Review Act resolution, including the questionable (or totally invasive) practices that it could theoretically bring about — consumer depredations that go way beyond the milquetoast selling of user’s browsing data to marketers.

The creepiest possibility raised by the EFF was by far the possibility for ISPs to pre-install software to make information gathering easier. And then of course there are the "supercookies." These are undetectable and cannot be deleted, a sort of zombie cookie that allows anyone access to track you.

And yes, Google, Bing, Yahoo and their brethren all do this, and it’s legal. It’s also been legal for ISPs to do it (and they haven’t so far as we know), but in the race to the bottom of privacy worst practices, isn’t it just a matter of time and consumer desensitization? Who knows. The smart money would say that ISPs won’t go down these dark alleys of privacy exploitation for the simple reason that there is more money to be made by respecting and protecting consumer interests.

So You’re Thinking About a VPN

After the news broke about this blitzkrieg against everything privacy advocates hold sacred, a spontaneous parade erupted featuring articles and posts about VPNs, or virtual private networks.

There were articles about free solutions and VPNs that you have to pay for, but the upshot of all these well-intentioned approaches to dealing with the continuing assault on consumer privacy left me with a few questions, and a creeping sense of malaise.

In a world where smart TVs can listen to your most intimate moments and smart phones can be turned into all-access spy tools, who’s to say that VPNs are hack-proof? The short answer is that they are not completely failsafe. No security protocol is 100 percent effective.

There are some considerations when choosing a VPN that matter. First of all, they will slow you down. While this is a fair trade off if you are going online using public WiFi, it may not be the best choice at home. VPNs also mess up certain apps and services. Do they track your traffic? Some do, and with that said, there is a follow up question: How do they store that information, and how often is it deleted? While a VPN is better than no solution at all, it is crucial that should you decide to go that route, do so with your eyes open.

VPNs are neither the silver bullet nor a wooden stake. The undead and undying vampire of private information monetization will live another day to take countless more victims.

The Library as Solution

If you find this to be a funny "solution," that’s because it’s kind of sad. But really, the safest thing you can do, if you want to cover your tracks online now that your ISP can do anything they want with your traffic habits, is probably to use a library computer.

You will still want to pay your bills on your secure home network (and hope your ISP doesn’t decide it should be allowed to read your credit card activity over your cyber shoulder or try to sell you a vacation when your checking balance increases), but any curiosity surfing should be done on that slow library machine with its bacteria-laden keyboard and ever-so-checkered history.

If that still feels too risky — and I can see why it might — your next, best option is to read library books at the library with your jacket over your head just in case there’s a hackable surveillance camera installed on the premises.

Adam K. Levin is a consumer advocate with more than 30 years of experience and is a nationally recognized expert on security, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance. A former Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Levin is chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com. Levin is the author of Amazon Best Seller "Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves." Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.

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Welcome to the private information free-for-all where, thanks to Congress, every move you make online can be sold to the highest bidder. But is there a way to still keep your private moments private?
isp, data, privacy, vpn, library
Monday, 10 April 2017 12:36 PM
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