On March 29, 2017, Congress repealed the broadband privacy rules that blocked providers from collecting and selling your information (name, accounts, browsing history, financial transaction, pictures, everything you touch and surf to on your computer, tablets, and in some cases phones). Clearly there are few of us who approve of this move, and it is purely in the interests of broadband providers. However, there are ways for you to fight back. Some of the information below was garnered from an excellent article by PC World - Three Privacy Tools that Block Your Internet Provider From Tracking You.
I am aware that the following looks like a long and complex list. Take this in a couple of bites if you must. You can do 1, 2, and 5, and then take on 3, 4, and 6. If you are not using Windows, particularly Windows 10, then you can likely skip 4 (though it can't hurt to do it anyway). Keep in mind what is at risk - everything you do online or through your phone for sale over and over again - and believe me, your provider is not going to give you a discount for the money this puts in their pockets.
- Call your broadband provider and tell them you want to have your account opted out of having your information collected and sold. While I do not know how every provider will respond, I just called Comcast/Xfinity and once I explained what I wanted, the Customer Service rep tried to tell me that this was "an improvement" in my services. However, I told him that I did not see it as an "improvement" and I wanted my account "opted out." He was able to do that in about 1 minute. Be aware that you may have more than one provider. You may have a broadband provider for home internet, tablet, and phone.
- Download Https:// Everywhere from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). This application encrypts the web for Firefox, Chrome, Android, and Opera. Further, EFF is a great group that works diligently on internet and related technology issues in the public interest.
- Set up an account through a reliable Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. There are a few decent ones that are free, but you may need to purchase an account depending on your needs and circumstances. Private Tunnel offers both free and paid accounts and is reported as reliable, and F-Secure Freedom is one recommended by PC World.
- IF you use Windows 10 make user that you protect your DNS (Domain Name System or Internet Service Provider). Windows 10 has a problem with leaking this information. If you are using a VPN, make sure they allow you to reset your DNS to a third party. If your VPN does not have this option, then PC World recommends Open DNS.
- Seriously consider using the TOR browser. This is a browser based upon the Firefox browser that operates in encrypted mode at all times. I have used this browser for years for sensitive research projects. TOR is constructed to defend against network surveillance, and it is available in all platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux/Unix). Tor has its own search engine which is also encrypted.
- Change your search engine to Duck Duck Go. Duck does not collect personal information, does not pass on product info/ads, and does not track you. Using Duck is particularly important if you do NOT use the TOR browser (5).
I encourage you to be informed on what the Congress has done and its implications for you. I encourage you to wade through what may seem to be technical articles to figure out how to defend yourself from this overreach why the broadband providers, and from the predatory corporations. Do some searches. Follow the links provided and be knowledgeable. Knowledge is the most critical thing you have to protect yourself and you privacy. That Congress would pass this at a time when Identity Theft is at an all time high is criminally irresponsible.
~ Rowan Wolf, UncommonThought