Vol. 10, No. 14 – April 12 – April 25, 2017 – Tech Today

Tech Today with Ken May

How the ISP Law Change Affects Your Privacy

On Tuesday, March 28th, Congress sent proposed legislation to President Donald Trump that wipes away landmark online privacy protections, the first salvo in what is likely to become a significant reworking of the rules governing Internet access. The legislation would kill a set of Obama-era privacy regulations for internet service providers created by the Federal Communications Commission last October.

The most notable part of the rules, which has not yet taken effect, would require broadband providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to obtain explicit consent before selling their customers’ web-browsing histories, app-usage data, and other personal information to advertisers and other third-parties. The vote is concerned with some recent changes to what the internet is in the eyes of the American government.

In February of 2015, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified ISPs as “common carriers,” which means they traffic in utilities. This effectively put the internet in the same category as telephones, water, gas, and other necessary components for living in terms of how it’s regulated. This allowed the FCC to enforce net neutrality laws, which force all ISPs to provide access to all kinds of content on the internet equally. (In the past, ISPs would slow down users’ traffic when visiting certain websites or sharing files to discourage them from engaging in these acts.) Classifying the internet as a utility also meant ISPs had to follow the privacy guidelines previously written for telephones. This legislation would effectively roll back many of these changes, allowing ISPs to do whatever they want with their users’ browsing data.

So, this is a complicated issue. What’s the easiest way to get my privacy back?

Well, states could try to implement some form of the FCC rules for their own residents. ISPs might conceivably change their practices nationwide if enough states do so, or customers in some states could have fewer privacy protections than customers in other states.

“As on climate change, immigration and a host of other issues, some state legislatures may prove to be a counterweight to Washington by enacting new regulations to increase consumers’ privacy rights, a New York Times article said this week. The Times article mentioned laws in California, Connecticut, Nebraska, and West Virginia and proposals for new laws in Illinois, Hawaii, and Missouri, but none of these laws and proposals was specifically targeted at ISPs.

But let’s assume that doesn’t happen. Now what?

Last year, Opera, the little browser that everyone seems to forget about, rolled out a free VPN. It’s easily the simplest, cheapest, and most reasonably private way to access a VPN that will circumvent your ISP right now. It does come with a slew of caveats though. An Opera spokesperson said that the VPN is a no-log service, which is good, however, while Opera is a Norwegian company and therefore acts under Norwegian law, SurfEasy, the company that provides the VPN service, is a Canadian company, and Canada is known to hand over intelligence data. Regardless, using the VPN means you’re agreeing to SurfEasy’s Privacy Policy. Opera was also purchased by a Chinese consortium last year, so any data Opera does collect could be accessible by that company at some point. Also, keep in mind, only the web browsing you do in Opera will go through their VPN. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good step forward. Hopefully, we see something similar implemented in other browsers.

h/t Business Insider, Game Informer, Lifehacker, Ars Technica

 

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