How to Protect Your Online Privacy Now That Congress Sold You Out

Congress just cleared your ISP to sell your data, so now it is time to take privacy into your own hands.

Opt out with your ISP

Your ISP may not need your permission to sell your data, but you can still go to them and tell them not to do it. The catch, of course, is this requires you to be proactive, and there’s no real guarantee that this will protect you completely. Still, do it. Get on the phone or visit the website of your ISP and opt out of every ad-related thing—and into every privacy-related thing—you can find. The process can be a little arduous—often requiring the use of your ISP-given email address that you probably never use—and it may not take effect immediately either. All the better reason to do it now.

[” align=”C”]Your ISP may not need to ask before selling your data, but you can go tell them it is not OK. [/pullquote]

Time Warner/Spectrum customers can find their privacy dashboard here. Comcast customers can opt out of some targeted programs using these instructions. Verizon customers can find opt out options here. Remember, your phone company is technically an ISP too, so look up your options on that front as well.

Opting out is an important first step, but it is not enough to actually preserve your privacy. Your ISP is not necessarily giving you the opportunity to opt out of all its ad-targeting programs. As the policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, Eric Null, told Gizmodo, it is “highly unlikely” the new FCC will go after ISPs that aren’t offering robust opportunities to opt-out.

Some smaller ISPs, which survive on small and satisfied customer bases as opposed to a large and captive audience, are more incentivized to protect your privacy with gusto. In fact, a whole host of small ISPs wrote a letter to Congress opposing this move. If you’re lucky enough to have the option of switching to one, now might be a good time.

Keep your data out of your ISP’s hands in the first place

Your ISP is uniquely suited to snoop on your information. Anything you put online has to pass through its hands. Email you send through Gmail, chats through Facebook Messenger—they all travel through your ISP before they reach the service that actually sends them on. But while it is impossible to cut your ISP out of this exchange entirely, you can hide the data as you are sending it.

Apps with end-to-end encryption can encrypt your private information on the phone or computer you’re using, ensuring that it is coded and protected through the entire delivery process. So while your ISP can see the data go by, they can’t make sense of it.

Secure chat apps like Signal will be crucial to keep your chats private not only from the government and hackers, but from your ISP. Just make sure these services have security measures that are open-source and trusted by experts who can help keep them honest. You can also encrypt data manually, using a standard like PGP, before you send it off into the web, but it can be an arduous process, because you have to ensure that the recipient has the means to decode that info and read it.

The most seamless solution is to pay for a Virtual Private Network—a VPN—which allows you to encrypt all the data that passes through your ISP. This means that while your ISP still doing the work of hauling your data around, it can’t understand any of it. The downside to this is that VPNs (at least any VPNs you can trust) are not free. Most good ones will require a yearly subscription. Furthermore, you aren’t hiding your personal data from everyone, you are just entrusting it to the VPN instead of your ISP, so do your research and choose a VPN you trust not to sell you out. Fortunately, since VPNs exist exclusively to keep your data private, they are pretty incentivized to keep you happy.

The only one you can really trust to protect you is you.

The short and uncomfortable truth is this: Until more robust privacy protections are put in place, the burden of protecting your online data falls on you. Keep it in mind, do your research, and remember that your monopolized ISP has every reason in the world to sell you out and wring your data for every dime that it is worth. The only one you can really trust to protect you is you.

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