It's official: internet service providers (ISP) can now sell any data collected from what you do on the internet, like your browsing history. On April 3, President Donald Trump signed a new bill that overturns former President Barack Obama's internet privacy rules, but there are some simple ways consumers can try to protect themselves.
Under Obama, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came up with new regulations, requiring ISPs to ask consumers if they could sell their data. It was supposed to go into effect this December. Instead, a bill overturning this regulation passed both the House and Senate and was signed by President Trump.
This means that no matter who you are and what you do, your browsing history and anything you do on the internet can be sold by ISPs (such as Comcast and Verizon). While some ISPs have promised to offer an opt-out option, chances are they'll do it in a way that's so subtle you might miss it. So, if you're serious about protecting your data, here are six things you can do right now.
- Visit websites that only use HTTPs: An HTTPs connection ensures that everything you're seeing and doing on the internet is encrypted. It also means your ISP can only know the domain you're on. For example, if you visit Facebook, your ISP will only know you're on Facebook.com and not what profile, page, or group you're seeing. So the next time you're visiting a website, look at the URL and check to see if it says HTTP or HTTPS. If it's HTTP, you might want to consider never visiting the site again.
- Download Chrome extensions or other tools to protect yourself: With Micro Snitch, a Mac app, you'll see whether any other app is using your Mac's microphone or camera. Snoopie is a Chrome extension that alerts you if a website uses a "popular tracking service."
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN works similarly to a HTTPS connection; it encrypts everything you visit online and doesn't let anyone or any company track it back to your IP address. However, it's not guaranteed that a VPN service won't actually keep your data. If you're concerned and want to get into specifics, That One Privacy Site has a massive list of VPNs with information such as whether they log traffic, IP addresses, and more. If you want to know what to look for in a VPN, Lifehacker has some key details to look out for.
- Download Tor: Tor is another web browser that's open source and hides your IP address. However, it does tend to run slower and has had its own issues with spying on users.
- Invest in a password manager: If you're the type to use the same password for everything or write down all your passwords on your computer, please stop. Instead, get a password manager app like 1Password or LastPass. 1Password offers a monthly plan of $3 or a family plan for $5. LastPass has a free option, but you're better off getting the yearly plan for $12. A password manager won't protect your data from ISPs, but it will protect you if hackers steal information your ISP collects.
- Set up two-factor authentication (2FA): Don't let hackers get into your accounts so easily with 2FA. With 2FA, anytime you download an app to your phone or sign into your email on a new computer, you'll enter your password and usually a code that's sent to you via text or email. You can check to see what apps and services offer 2FA here.
You Can Find Out Exactly What Google Knows About You
If all of this sounds too complicated, the least you can do is visit websites that use HTTPs, use a password manager, and set up two-factor authentication. And of course, keep calling your representatives to protect your data and privacy.