As of Tuesday, we are now in a world where your internet service provider (ISP) can technically track just about everything you do on the web and then use it for advertising purposes. The websites you go to and where you access them from can tell these corporations so many things about you, from the illnesses you have, the bank you have your money saved in, or even your sexual orientation. That can all be used to send you targeted ads, which can be sold to businesses at a premium. So how can you protect your internet browser history now? Much of your data may otherwise be for sale.
The House voted Tuesday 215 to 205 for a resolution approved in a party-line vote in the Senate Thursday to repeal FCC rules on internet privacy. The Republicans want corporations to be able to sell this data, and thus they're preventing the FCC from regulating it. Without an act of Congress, this will forever be out of the agency's purview. Now info on every website you visit, your location data, TV viewing history, calls, text message records, and app usage will be for sale, according to C-NET.
So how to get around this? The best way is probably to get a virtual private network (VPN) service. This reroutes all your network traffic through the servers of the VPN company which hides that info from your ISP. That prevents the internet service provider from watching where you go and selling the info. There's a catch: Now the VPN company knows your browser history and more. So choose the company wisely. There are lots.
Make sure that you're using the "https://" version of websites as opposed to "http://" because the version with the "s" is encrypted. There are some ways to force websites to load this way. Your ISP can't see what you're looking at, although they can still see the domain name. So if you visit Bank of America once a day, it's likely that you bank with them, although they won't know the finer points of your financial situation.
Another reasonable solution would be switching internet providers. Only the big national players will be able to monetize your info at first. The smaller ones won't have departments trying to sell your data, and some have even decided this is a good way to compete with the big players. Sonic in California promises not to sell your data and even gives you a VPN to use when you're not connecting from home.
If you're somewhere with fewer choices, you're going to have to rely on the VPN. Another step recommended by an expert that NPR interviewed recommends opting out of targeted ads. "It pays to opt out of the behavioral advertising, when you see that triangle "i," because thousands of companies will at least not target you — they may still be collecting data, but they're not gonna be tailoring the ads that you see," privacy expert and CEO Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum told NPR.
None of this guarantees your privacy. Only good regulation could do that. But in the meantime these are the steps that you can do to reduce the effect of the Republicans' votes on the matter. D.C. may be a lost cause but write your state legislators. Maybe they can try to limit the damage.