Government Technology

They… are watching you

Today, Trump is likely to sign the latest in Congressional Review Act bills, this one to overturn a new FCC rule that would force ISPs to get permission from users to collect and share personal information.

The Senate was the first to toss the privacy rule, followed by the House. The vote was along party lines. Kudos to the Democrats for looking out for us, but the party-line Republican vote was a little surprising considering the number of libertarians among the Republicans. Libertarians have a real thing for privacy. I expect Rand Paul will have some explaining to do the next time he runs for re-election.

Why bad?

So, why is this vote bad?

ISPs (such as Charter, ATT, and Comcast) can track your every move, whether you’re watching a movie on Roku, surfing the web using Chrome, or accessing your medical information using an app on your Android phone. They can sell the data they collect to third parties in order to target you with “appropriate ads”. Actually, they can sell the information to any entity for any ¬†purpose. The ISPs claim this is a service, but not even the most gullible believes we, the people, will benefit from this activity.

What can we do?

In Twitter, Joy Reid recommended we clear our browsing history, but that will have absolutely no impact.

If you want privacy, you’ll need to become familiar with VPNs.

I’m typing this using the Opera browser. I switched to Opera because it has a built-in VPN (Virtual Private Network) that obscures my web activity from the ISPs. It’s one of the many suggestions we’ve read the last few days.

My favorite how-to guide on securing our data is How to set up a VPN in 10 minutes for free (and why you urgently need one) by Free Code Camp’s Quincy Larson. If you follow the recommendation to use a VPN, just make sure that you pick one that’s aboveboard: they can also collect data on you.

Of course, using Opera won’t help with the app on Android or what I’m watching using my Roku, but it’s a start. I could install a VPN on my router, but then I won’t be able to watch Netflix, as this service blocks VPN use. Netflix’s actions are not for nefarious purposes: many of its video offerings are geographically restricted and VPNs hide your country of origin.

To help you, I’m also enabling HTTPS on my web server, another recommendation from the EFF. This won’t be as simple a move, but I need to stop being lazy and just get it done.

Poison the Well

My approach to Trump and the Congressional Republicans selling out our privacy is simple: I’m not going to be paranoid, but I’m not going to make it easier for my ISP to profit from my actions. If my ISP wants to note that I play the fireplace video from Netflix every time it’s cloudy and cold, I’m OK with this. But it doesn’t need to see what web sites I’m visiting on my computer.

In other words, I’m blasting a hole in the picture my ISP is building of me. It will never have a complete picture of who I am. It will have some data, but not all data. And not having a complete set of data makes the data it has less valuable.

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