PC Doctor March 31, 2017
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Dear PC Dr:
I’m concerned about the recent congressional vote that I heard allows my internet service provider to sell my browsing history without my permission or knowledge. Is there anything I can do to get a little more online privacy?
I think you are referring to legislation voted on by the Senate last week and the House of Representatives this week (SJ Res 34). It will become official if the president signs it. You can read it on Congress.gov (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/34).
Essentially, SJ Res 34 reverses a previous Federal Communications Rule that required carriers to inform users of their rights and allow them to opt in or out of various privacy-related features, required providers to expressly ask for permission to use customers’ confidential data, and a few other things. Once signed by the president, your online information such as what sites you visit, what you view or click on while there, what you buy online, any medical or private family information, will all be available for your internet provider to sell. According to the New York Times, if you have any home management systems internet linked, (security cameras, thermostats), that information is eligible to be shared as well.
So, what can you do to give yourself a little bit of privacy, short of never going online?
You can try “Https Everywhere.” According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “HTTPS Everywhere is a Firefox, Chrome, and Opera extension that encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure.” You can find downloads and more information here: https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere
You can sign up for a “virtual private network.” A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to connect to the internet via a server run by a VPN provider. All data traveling between your computer, phone, or tablet, and the VPN server is encrypted. As a result of this setup, VPNs hide your internet activity from your internet service provider and mask your location, as well as providing some protection against hackers when using public wifi. (This service does cost money.) PC Magazine (pcmag.com) recently ran a review of reliable VPN providers.
Of course, you can also conduct all of your shopping, banking, and medical business in person, but that requires a lifestyle change that many people may not want to make.
Until next time,