US consumers are set to lose control over their online privacy as a consequence of the US Congress throwing out incoming rules for Internet Service Providers that would have given consumers a direct say in how ISPs can use their private data.
The overturned rules – passed last October but not yet implemented – would have required the explicit consent from consumers if sensitive data such as ID numbers, browsing history, or health information could be sold or shared with other companies.
But now, those rules are wishful history
The new changes, expected to be signed into law by President Trump, unleash ISPs to do pretty much anything they want with all of the personal data collected on their customers – data such as internet browsing history, apps used, location, and their Social Security numbers. Even worse, the changes restrict the ability of the agency that drafted the overturned regulations, from making such onerous restrictions in the future.
This is great news for ISPs, as it permits them to step into the booming 83 billion dollar online advertising market alongside industry giants such as Google and Facebook. And they don’t have to ask you about it.
This is not just an American issue
Your ISP, regardless of your location, knows a lot about you – and this is the big problem. All of your online activity – encrypted and unencrypted – passes through this ISP on the way to your devices. The ISP can pinpoint where you are geographically and seamlessly build a profile of you which combines all your devices, operating systems, apps used, media viewed, and browser history.
This type of detailed cross-device user profile has been the Holy Grail of advertisers since the onset of the modern age.
The move by Congress should raise the red flag for people anywhere on the globe: What happens if an ISP can do whatever it likes with my online activities – and no government agency is going to step in and protect me?
The answer is clear: You should protect yourself – and encrypt everything. Your ISP is only able to track activities and scoop up private information if it is unencrypted. And that is a big if.
How to keep your ISP out of your online life
When it comes to keeping your ISP out of your online life and protecting your privacy against other various forms of intrusion: use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) at home – not just at that café hotspot – to encrypt everything passing through your device. By placing all of your activities into a secure and encrypted envelope, a VPN such as the Avira Phantom VPN prevents ISPs from tracking your activities, the contents of your emails, and building that desired user profile.