Congress, ISPs, VPNs and Your Privacy

Late March, in a move that was more starkly partisan and lobbyist driven than normal, the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to gut a rule that had been in place that prevented Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from selling information collected from your internet usage. Think about that for a minute. That’s not just your browsing history that they’d be selling to advertisers. There’s no rule saying ISPs can’t sell your information to any kind of organization. And that information goes beyond the browsing history of your home computers. If you use a smart phone or tablet on your wifi, that information would be included. If you have other devices or appliances that communicate via your wifi, that would also be included.

Don’t Panic

Conspiracy theories aside, the most likely scenario is some form of advertising that is targeted by IP address. Have you ever seen ads for things that you’ve recently seen on Amazon pop up in Facebook? That’s done with cookies, which are specific to your browser. If this same kind of advertising is done with an IP address it will be much more pervasive and extend to multiple devices. This could be problematic for people who share an IP address with multiple people, including children.

Is Using a VPN the solution?

A Virtual Private Network is only part of the solution, but it’s a big part and probably good enough for most people. What VPNs do, in a nutshell, is provide a tunnel for your web activity. In the end, all you ISP will see is a steady stream of traffic going to the VPN. You’re basically handing that information over to the VPN, with the understanding that they will secure or destroy the data from your internet traffic. An article in WIRED points out that finding a trustworthy VPN isn’t an easy task, but they’ve done much of the work for us.

Is my ISP going to sell my info

If you’re lucky enough to be a subscriber to an ISP as cool as Burlington Telecom, the answer is “no, they won’t sell my info”. If you’re a customer of Comcast, you can be sure that they will be selling it as often as they can. They’re not required to notify you or have your consent, so you’ll just have to trust Comcast of they say they won’t.