Some have worried that consumer rights would lose out to corporate America during the Trump administration. Well, Tuesday's congressional vote allowing internet service providers (ISPs) to sell your personal web browsing history is expected to be signed into law by President Trump, awarding a free new jackpot revenue stream to ISPs who want to sell your porn-viewing habits, medical searches, and personal web-browsing and financial details to any marketer or private investigator they please, without notifying you of any of this.
Why would Congress approve such obviously anti-consumer legislation that rewards the companies with some of the worst customer service in America? The legislation’s author, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offers some vagaries that the law will “inform customers about innovative and cost-saving product offerings”. For a more accurate explanation, The Verge has a handy list of which congresspeople voted to allow ISPs to sell customer data and how much money each took in telecom industry donations.
The consumer clearly has no say in any of these decisions. So what can you do to protect your online privacy now that Comcast and AT&T can snoop on you and sell your data in new ways?
If the site you are visiting does not use HTTP this means your ISP can see the URL and the content of everything you send and read.— Sarah Jamie Lewis (@SarahJamieLewis) March 29, 2017
Pay Attention to Whether the Website is Secure
The URL of a secure website begins with the letters “https” instead of just “http”. Secure sites with “https” in their URL offer a great deal more privacy from your snooping ISP. ISPs can tell you visited the site, but they won’t see all your activity while there. SFist, for instance, is not a secure site — so your ISP would know whether you’ve browsed content about sex, drugs, or rock’n’roll.
Even if the site is not secure, you can make it secure by adding the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere extension to your web browser. This won’t hide what sites you’ve visited, but it will hide your activity on these sites.
Use The Tor Web Browser or Tools
The Tor Project has a free web browser and various other tools to anonymize your web behavior. Tor is fairly highly regarded in hacker community, and PC World has a nice Cliff Notes explainer on how to set up and use Tor.
Tor does, however, have a tendency to slow down your internet speed and occasionally produces a less-than-ideal browsing experience.
You can also just install the Internet Noise browser extension that a clever programmer created this week, which passively loads random websites in browser tabs, filling ISP databases with useless noise.
Buy and Install a VPN
There is some debate over whether a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which encrypts your web browsing and puts it on a more private channel, is really an improvement over normal, unencrypted Internet use. After all, you’re just switching the ability to snoop on your data from one for-profit company (your ISP) to another (whoever sold you the VPN). But there is consensus opinion that free VPNs are a pretty shady racket, and their revenue model is the exact same data-selling scheme in which the big telecoms now hope to engage,
Remember, using a VPN means delegating your security and PRIVACY completely to a provider. You must trust them completely.— SwiftOverSSH (@SwiftOnSecurity) June 16, 2015
Complain About It To Your Congressperson
They say all those phone calls and town hall tirades made a difference in helping to keep Obamacare from being repealed. While this internet legislation has already passed, it can’t hurt to let your representatives know that you’re not happy about it. In the case of Nancy Pelosi, though, she probably already knows.