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Thursday, March 30, 2017

The U.S. government won't protect your internet privacy, so here's how to do it yourself.

The U.S. government won't protect your internet privacy, so here's how to do it yourself. (Popsci).

Yesterday, by a vote of 215 to 205, the House of Representatives voted to strip privacy safeguards from people who use the internet. The measure already cleared the Senate with a narrow majority, and experts expect that President Trump will sign the bill into law. When he does so, ISPs, the companies that connect people to the internet, will be able to collect and sell information about specific users without their permission.

More specifically, the bill nullifies a set of rules put in place by the FCC. Collectively, the rules—which have been in the works in the works for months and years and are built on prior rulemaking—are newly formalized: The FCC published the final version last December, and most took effect in January, with one part coming into effect this March.

Some of those protections provided by these rules are, technologically speaking, ancient—like extending 1934 privacy requirements originally written for telecommunication companies to also cover broadband internet service. Modern additions deal more explicitly with consumer consent and privacy online. The rules mandate that ISPs do three things: Let customers know about (and opt-in or opt-out of) any sharing of their information; get affirmative consent when offering customers financial incentives in exchange for selling their data; and not offer cheaper service to people on the condition that they surrender privacy rights.

Without these measures in place, ISPs will be freed up to turn user data into a lucrative business—and to do so without the users' knowledge or consent. Nullifying these rules, after all the time it took to create and implement them, gives companies implicit permission to do exactly what the rules protect against. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a major online privacy rights organization, describes it succinctly:
Putting the interests of internet providers over internet users, Congress today voted to erase landmark broadband privacy protections. If the bill is signed into law, companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon will have free rein to hijack your searches, sell your data, and hammer you with unwanted advertisements. Worst yet, consumers will now have to pay a privacy tax by relying on VPNs to safeguard their information. That is a poor substitute for legal protections.
This change in rules means ISPs can profit off a captive customer base twice: first, by charging them for the service, and second, by collecting data on what users do online and selling it to a third party.

“I’m concerned about their stewardship of the data,” says Shauna Dillavou, a former member of the D.C. intelligence community who now runs CommunityRED, a nonprofit that works on finding and providing secure technology tools for citizen reporters operating in journalism-unfriendly places abroad. “We still have to pay for their service, for the most part, and a lot of the tools you’ll have to use to safeguard your privacy and your security will slow your connection down, so then you have to upgrade your service and pay even more, because ISPs are sucking your data out.”

To make matters worse for users, should the bill be signed into law, ISPs will no longer be required to disclose data breaches. That means people could have their information stolen from the company that collected it without their consent, and then not even know that the data theft took place.

We’ve put the entire responsibility of security on the users,” says Dillavou.

Restoring consumer protections will likely take either legislative or legal action, which means waiting until the next Congress takes office in 2019 at the earliest—or hoping a privacy-relevant case works through the courts before then.

Still, that doesn’t mean individual users are completely powerless to protect their own data. Here are some steps a user can take to secure their privacy: Read the full story here.

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