What Is A VPN, Do I Need One And Who Wants My Browsing History Anyway?


Earlier today, the House of Representatives demonstrated that they value a corporation’s bottom line more than their citizen’s privacy. The vote seems to be part of a Republican plan to undo everything Obama did while President. This particular vote allows internet service providers (ISPs) to sell the browsing history of their customers on the open market. Even worse, this particular vote prohibits the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) from enacting any similar privacy rules in the future. Truth be told, your ISP already has this ability. The regulations undone by today’s vote were not yet in place, meaning ISPs already can sell your browsing history. Sadly, if Trump signs the resolution, your data may forever be up for grabs.

There aren’t many things that can be done to protect your browsing information. Much like preventing pregnancy, the only truly effective way to stop an ISP from selling your data is total abstinence. This isn’t always a realistic strategy, so it’s important to learn about, and start taking, precautions.

Contact Your ISP

You may first want to see if you can somehow opt out of data collection. Review any documentation you may have signed when you signed up and look for clauses relating to the collection and sale of data. If you don’t have copies available, call your ISP and ask for a copy. While you’ve got them on the phone, ask about their policies regarding data collection. They may have a way for their users to opt out of these services. If not, call around. You might be able find and switch to an ISP that does offer some measure of privacy. With widespread knowledge of data collection practice and mounting public opinion against it, a growing number of ISPs may start offering privacy services.

Use A Virtual Private Network

Another way to protect your data is to use a virtual private network (VPN). When you use a VPN, your device connects to the internet through a third-party server. Basically, you connect to the VPN, and the VPN connects you to the internet. If your ISP were to glimpse at your browsing history, they would only see the servers your VPN connected you to, not a list of websites you visit. For the time being, they are the best way to hide your data from your ISP (and the open market). There are hundreds of VPN providers out there, making it hard to say which one is the best. Everyone seems to have their preferences in terms of ideal provider and the cost they are willing to pay per month. If you are serious about a VPN (and you should be), PC Mag has a fantastic and easy to read breakdown of 2017’s best VPNs. Their top three:

Each VPN will have its own pros and cons. The best VPN for you may be entirely subjective, and depends on what you prioritize more. Some users may want a detailed settings interface, while others may just want speed. Be sure you thoroughly investigate any VPN provider before you make a purchase. This means reading reviews online, and researching them on reputable tech websites (such as Wired or PC Mag).

A Word Of Caution About VPNs

VPNs are not perfect. For starters, instead of disclosing your browsing history to your ISP, you are disclosing it to the VPN service provider. Be sure you carefully read all the terms and conditions as well as the provider’s privacy policy. I know, it’s boring and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is on but it’s important to know exactly what you are paying for. Don’t sign up for free services. Remember the old adage “you get what you pay for” is painfully true, especially when you get something for free.

Netflix, and other streaming services, are getting way smarter than some of us would like. They now block access to users browsing through a VPN. Sadly, this means no more US Netflix for Canadians. Even worse, it means that the highest bidder now knows you spent the last week binge-watching all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Who The Eff Wants My Browsing Data?

With all there is to be upset about in today’s society, does the sale of your browsing history really mater? I mean, most of us aren’t plotting to take down the patriarchy, right? The most obvious market for your data are marketers. Imagine the targeted marketing that will come your way, from everywhere, once advertisers know virtually everything about you. It might not seem like much, but there is a lot of valuable information to be had in your browsing data. If you honestly think it’s fine to sell, are you still cool with your ISP making money off of it instead of you? I  mean, if my ISP can’t give me reliable internet AND they’re gonna sell my browsing data to Kate Spade, I think I should get a cut of the deal too, you know?

There are almost no limits on how advertisers can target consumers with marketing. They can develop an eerily clear picture of you just by your browsing history. An advertiser or your ISP may know more about your fears, hopes, dreams, friends, and routines than your partner. Thanks Trump!

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