Data privacy is a concern for many Americans, but the U.S. Senate is on its way to putting your data at even higher risk of privacy issues. Current laws have broadband privacy rules in place that require Internet Service Providers to receive explicit consent from consumers before they can share or sell private information, such as web browsing data, to advertisers or other companies. Here’s the scoop on what the Senate is trying to change.
The Senate’s Decision
In March 2017, the Senate voted to eliminate these privacy rules. The vote has now gone through the House of Representatives, but there’s a chance that President Trump may issue a veto to ensure these privacy rules remain in place. However, if the president agrees to abolish these rules, Internet Service Providers could sell private information and browsing history to companies without a customer’s consent.
The Senate voted along party lines with a 50-48 vote. The measure was introduced by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and included 23 Republican co-sponsors. In the House vote, most Republicans also voted for the measure while most Democrats voted against it. The House vote came to a 215-205 vote. It’s a very real and scary possibility that this measure could go through should the President agree to pass it.
What Information is At Risk?
Democrats are advocating against the measure. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts calls ISP “invading subscriber privacy” rather than “Internet service providers.” He went on to say that if this measure goes through, ISPs could track where families shop, go to school, what their health and financial information is like, and more. They could then sell that information to anyone wishing to make a profit off consumers and their data.
All of this information can be collected through your Internet activity. For example, service providers may be able to track your geolocation to figure out where you work and shop. They can see when you log on to the computer in the morning, which gives them a good idea of when you wake up. And they know what you’re looking at on the web, so they can guess when you’re sick based on your searches for cold remedies.
If this measure goes through, that means your ISP can collect this information and sell it to the highest bidder so those companies can target ads to you based on your current location or circumstance.
While current laws don’t restrict ISPs from selling your data, they do require customer consent before sharing that data. With this measure, that consent will no longer be required, and ISPs won’t be held accountable for selling your information without consent.
How to Remain Safe Online
Though the President is our last line of hope to keep this measure from going through, it’s very possible it will be approved. The good news is that you don’t have to choose between giving up your information or avoiding the Internet altogether. There are several ways to browse the Internet anonymously so that your Internet Service Provider can’t collect, share, or profit off your data. Here are just a few ways to maintain your privacy online.
Use a VPN
One option to hide your browsing data from your ISP by using a virtual private network (VPN). Though VPNs are commonly used to add a layer of security over public networks and for companies to protect sensitive data, they will also work to keep your ISP from tracking you online. A VPN software is a service that routes your Internet activity through the provider’s servers. It works to mask your IP address and encrypt your data to add an extra layer of security when browsing online.
Since ISPs track your data through your IP address, masking it through a VPN will allow you to browse the Internet anonymously. Not only will it protect you from your Internet Service Provider’s data collection and selling operation, but a VPN is also secure enough to protect you over public Wi-Fi networks and in other potentially compromising situations.
VPNs usually come at a small monthly fee, but they are worth it because they hide your IP address and encrypt your data all without compromising speed.
Use a Web Proxy
Web proxies are similar to VPNs but with more limitations. They’re better for one-time uses but can be a viable option if you don’t want your ISP to get a-hold of search data without consent. Proxies can be found all across the Internet and are free to use.
However, they do come with their drawbacks. You don’t want to enter sensitive information when using a proxy, and you’ll only be able to use it on your browser. With a VPN, on the other hand, data from your apps will also route through the VPN. That said, proxies will still work to hide your IP address so ISPs don’t know what you’re searching or what sites you’re visiting online.
Browse Over the Tor Network
Tor is a network of servers that bounce your data from server to server before reaching its destination to make your online activity virtually impossible to track. Plus, the network encrypts your data as it moves from server to server. That makes it even more anonymous. That way, even if someone intercepts your data and cracks the encryption, they can’t trace the data back to you, nor can they tell your final destination.
You can access the Tor network by downloading the Tor browser and using it when you want to surf the web anonymously. You can even download the browser onto a flash drive and take it with you on-the-go since the software doesn’t require installation to run.
While the Senate’s decision is not ideal, there are ways to work around it should the measure go through and your Internet security is compromised. Not only will these suggestions protect you from having your ISP sell your data, but they’ll add an extra layer of security from other prying eyes as well.
How will you protect your personal data if this measure passes?
About the Author: John Mason is a Cyber Security/Privacy enthusiast working as an analyst for TheBestVPN.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.