The US Senate recently voted to eliminate broadband rules ENACTED BY THE FCC requiring customer permission to monitor and share information. What this basically means is that your ISP now has the legal right to observe and use your data without you even knowing. It’s not necessarily a new thing — in fact, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and pretty much everyone else on the planet have already been monitoring you. Your browsing history and other personal information are often tracked and stored for internal, government, and marketing usage.
Marketers and ISPs ARE APPLAUDING THE MOVE — obviously because it benefits them in a big way — while INTERNET ADVOCACY GROUPS LIKE THE EFF actively criticized it and mobilized to stop the changes from being approved. At Private Tunnel, this is precisely the type of monitoring we aim to help customers avoid, so we’ve been keeping our fingers on the pulse of this issue to break down what it all means and why it’s essential for your online security.
If you’ve ever pirated content, you may have received legal notices from providers like AOL or Cox. This is because the government and Internet providers have partnered together to crack down on piracy, and according to this article in Wired, “for the first offense, internet subscribers will receive an email ‘alert’ from their ISP saying the account may have been misused for online content theft. On the second offense, the alert might contain an ‘educational message’ about the legalities of online file sharing. On the third and fourth infractions, the subscriber will likely receive a pop-up notice asking the subscriber to acknowledge receipt of the alert.” This is an understandable option to discourage illegal activity, but in another context, it serves as a powerful reminder of how easily you can be identified online.
You might be wondering: do internet providers check your history? The short answer is yes — but it isn’t so much that they actively check your browser history like a concerned parent. Rather, when you access a website, your ISP is the one passing that request — so they automatically see every website you visit. According to an article in ArsTechnica, “Your Internet provider offers up DNS as part of your service, but your provider could also log your DNS traffic — in essence, recording your entire browsing history.” That means your ISP monitors your online activity and stores the information they they see. But it doesn’t stop there. Every government around the world has different laws regarding data (called metadata by politicians minimizing the issue) — and according to this Reuters article, “the government can use metadata to learn our most intimate secrets – anything from whether we have a drinking problem to whether we’re gay or straight. The suggestion that metadata is “no big deal” – a view that, regrettably, is still reflected in the law – is entirely out of step with the reality of modern communications.”
Paying for services no longer means you get to AVOID BECOMING THE PRODUCT.
When you’re walking around with your phone, you should be aware that both Samsung and Google can record you. BOTH ALEXA and SIRI REMEMBER EVERYTHING you tell them, and you better believe EVERYTHING GOOGLE GETS is SAVED FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE.
While playing PSVR, PlayStation camera is recording you for Sony — just like the Xbox Kinect provides in-depth eye-tracking and facial recognition data for Microsoft. This data is much more potent than Nielsen surveys, because while you’re watching the Super Bowl, the Kinect can tell who’s checking the score, rooting for which team, leaving the room for commercials, and more.
So if all these companies (along with the government and anyone else with enough skill and interest) are monitoring you, what’s the danger in your ISP monitoring you?
It’s not just pirates, hackers, conspiracy theorists, and criminals worried about the consequences of overreaching data monitoring. Even FBI DIRECTOR JAMES COMEY PUTS TAPE OVER HIS DEVICE CAMERAS when not in use. An ISP monitoring your data can also leverage said data to control not only you, but content channels and creators like Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, etc. They’re MERGING AT INCREDIBLE RATES, and our data is one of many resources at the heart of this digital arms race.
Last time AT&T tried SELLING PERSONAL CUSTOMER INFORMATION, it didn’t stop there. The company also charged customers a $29/MONTH “PRIVACY FEE” TO OPT OUT. It’s obviously a lot deeper than just using your data for internal purposes — it’s extremely invasive and violates your personal privacy. That’s why it’s wise to encrypt your data as often as possible.
Although simple in concept, VPNs protect you on multiple levels. Even when the government monitors your “metadata,” it only needs to see the holes in information to fill in the gaps.
By using a VPN across all your devices, ISPs can see that you’re sending and receiving data, but only to the point of the VPN. They also can’t see what data you’re sending, because that data is encrypted before being sent from your device to the ISP. It’s like upgrading your magnetic strip to a chipped card or digital wallet.
ISPs you don’t even use can read data on your mobile, smart car, wearables, and other IoT devices when you go about your day. A VPN stops all of this by creating a private tunnel for your information to safely travel where you intend — without being intercepted along the way.
And don’t forget to get involved and MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD WITH YOUR LOCAL POLITICIANS one way or another about the removal of this FCC bill.