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On April 3, 2017, President Trump signed into law a bill that compromises consumers' Internet privacy. Take a look at what this means for you as an Internet user and how you can protect yourself from these new rules.
During the Obama Administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established online privacy protections that would have taken effect in December of this year. Those rules would have required Internet service providers (ISPs), or companies that connect you to the Internet such as AT&T and Comcast, to receive permission from their customers before sharing their data with third parties.
The new law not only overturns those rules, but it prevents the FCC from introducing similar privacy protection laws in the future. That means ISPs can collect and sell customer's web browsing data to advertising companies, all without customer consent and without being held accountable.
There has been much controversy over this bill. Some people argue that it's no different from what tech companies like Google and Facebook are already doing by tracking customers' browsing habits and purchase history. The difference, however, is that tech companies like Google and Facebook can only see what's in their network.
ISPs, on the other hand, could see everything you do online. And you may not even know your activity is being tracked and sold without contacting your ISP to opt out of its data collection program.
What it boils down to is that people can refuse to use Google or Facebook without compromising their entire Internet access. But when ISPs have the right to collect and sell data, users must either choose between their privacy or not using the Internet at all.
If your ISP chooses to track your Internet activity, it could track where you work and where your kids go to school based on your device's GPS location.
It can track your habits and lifestyle, such as when you wake up in the morning and go to bed at night based on when you're online. It could even track when you're sick based on your search history. Then it can profit off that information by selling it to advertisers who could then serve up ads for medications and further profit off you.
All of this data can be used to profile the users to target ads. What's more, ISPs will be able to collect passwords and other security details on sites that aren't secure. And they can do it all without telling you.
Luckily, you don't have to go completely Internet-free if you're concerned about protecting your data from your Internet service provider. One effective way around this is by using a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN sends your data through the provider's servers first before moving onto the rest of the Web.
It masks your IP address, which is a number — like a home address — that is associated with your device. That way, you can browse the web anonymously and your ISP can't track your activity. Instead of seeing a list of sites you've visited or search terms you've looked up, it can only see that you've connected to your VPN's server.
Not only that, but a VPN encrypts your data, which means it converts your information into a code while in transit so that other people can't access it. ISPs can't see encrypted traffic, so it adds an extra layer of security to your data.
VPN services are available for a small monthly fee, usually between $5 to $10 per month (here's a VPN comparison site). This small service fee is well worth it to keep your data secure and to browse the web in confidence.
There are many VPN services to choose from. Those with a "no-logging policy" don't track user activity and don't sell your online information. Not all VPN services have a no logging policy.
John Mason is an Internet security and privacy enthusiast. He is the head analyst for TheBestVPN, whose mission is to educate people on Internet computer security by posting in-depth guides and articles on VPN services so consumers can be more protected on the Internet.
Image: KikoStock / Shutterstock
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.