How to Shield Your Online Privacy From Harvesting by ISPs, Advertisers

Photo by Chernenko Timofey / Shutterstock.com

If you know anything about the legislation Congress signed off on earlier this week, you might feel a little unsettled — or perhaps just confused about the state of your online privacy.

Senate Joint Resolution 34 voids a rule called “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services,” which the Federal Communications Commission established last year.

What you should know

Under the 2016 rule that Congress just nixed, telecommunications companies like your internet service provider, or ISP, would have had to allow you to specify whether a telecom company could share your online information, among other requirements.

Critics are crying foul at the attack on the rule, saying the move by Congress will undermine privacy protections. Here’s how the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that fights mass surveillance by the federal government, summarizes the joint resolution designed to reverse the rule:

“If the bill is signed into law … big Internet providers will be given new powers to harvest your personal information in extraordinarily creepy ways. They will watch your every action online and create highly personalized and sensitive profiles for the highest bidder. All without your consent.”

The White House has already announced that if the legislation reaches President Donald J. Trump’s desk — where it’s now headed — “his advisors would recommend that he sign the bill into law.”

The White House stated that the 2016 rule “departs from the technology-neutral framework for online privacy administered by the Federal Trade Commission,” resulting in inconsistent application of “regulatory regimes.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Rules, also cited “inconsistent policies” in an announcement earlier this week:

“…under this Obama-era rule, internet service providers are arbitrarily held to a different standard than the rest of the internet ecosystem, stifling innovation, growth, and contrary to popular belief — consumer protection.”

What you can do

There are several free tools that can prevent third parties such as advertisers from tracking your online activity. The following four, for example, are all free or offer both free and paid options:

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation tells CNN it’s not as simple to prevent your internet service provider from logging the terms you search for and the websites you visit. ISPs are companies that provide you with access to the internet, after all.

“The technical ways to stop your ISP from tracking you are limited and cumbersome,” says Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the EFF.

A tool called a virtual private network, or VPN, can keep even your ISP from prying into your online activity, but you should research such tools first and be wary of the free ones.

“There is a long history of ‘free’ VPNs that prey on innocent consumers’ concerns about security and cynically make them less safe,” says Kenneth White, an internet security engineer and director of the Open Crypto Audit Project.

White tells CNN that he suggests a VPN called Cloak — which costs $99.99 a year — for folks with limited tech skills. He suggests one called Algo for tech-savvy folks.

EFF’s Gillula suggests free privacy software called Tor, which makes your online activity anonymous. That means it can be collected but not associated with you.

What’s your take on the state of your online privacy? Sound off below or on Facebook.

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