Your Internet Service Provider knows what you did last summer. And yesterday. And... right now.
You a literally being sold out; your browsing history and online interactions are heavily monetized. The sites that you visit give a good indication into your living situation, desires, and patterns. Your online life is another's marketing insight, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are charging you for data and then monetizing how you use that very data.
If this makes you uncomfortable, it may be time to setup a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
VPNs are a hot topic right now in light of Congress' recent repealing of the Federal Communication Commissions (FCC) rules that would have given consumers more control and notice about the collecting and sharing of your online behavior by ISPs. Popular ISPs include Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. While there are a variety of VPNs (both paid and free), they generally work by spoofing your location and making it much more difficult for ISPs to know what sites you a visiting.
It may be one small way to take back a semblance of privacy is 2017. If you want to see how quickly your location can be pinpointed through your IP address, visit https://whatismyipaddress.com/
What Exactly is a Virtual Private Network?
Generally speaking, Virtual Private Networks work by creating a secure (encrypted) pathway between your device and the VPN server. Instead of having your IP address displayed to your Internet Service Provider, you are utilizing a new IP address created by your VPN server that is interacting with the sites you are visiting. Most VPNs will not hide your data, but will hide that it is you.
If there are 101 ways to skin a cat, there seem to be 102 ways to setup a network and browsing experience. For example, internet users in repressive regimes may have a desire to visit sites blocked by the government and to remain deeply anonymous for safety reasons. After talking with security expert Michael Shelby, it became readily apparent that most simple VPNs may lack the necessary precautions and sophistication to be entirely fool-proof. "If you want to go to the next level, go to Tor," says Shelby.
VPNs can, however, provide significant benefits for those worried about the passive surveillance of Internet Security Providers. At the same time, you should be mindful that there are typically three parties that still have access to your browsing patterns:
2. Your VPN
Do your research before selecting a Virtual Private Network, based on the specific needs you may have. "Don't bother using the free ones," says security expert Michael Shelby. "You get what you pay for. Five dollars a month is not a lot to feel secure." Private Internet Access is an example of a VPN company that charges about that much to make your data encrypted and unreadable, changing your location and hiding your IP address. As the company states on its site, Make your internet traffic go from “Hello World” to “$%!#.” To alleviate the concern of paying for a VPN with a credit card, VPN companies often accept cryptocurrency.
3. The sites you are visiting
The websites you are visiting often are still maintaining data on your use. While some VPN services also block the direct online tracking by the websites, it may be helpful to consider browser add-ons like HTTPS Everywhere and Ghostery that encrypt your browsing. It should also be noted that using a VPN tends to slow down your browsing experience.
Unfortunately, it may not be as easy as selected a VPN provider and then doing all of your future web browsing on it. Popular sites like Netflix have aggressively sought to restrict using their service while utilizing a virtual private network. The current solution may be a patchwork approach where you toggle between using a VPN and regular browser depending on the sites you are visiting.
Without changing how we go online, our Internet Service Providers are looking over our proverbial backs and then selling what they've seen. It may be time to fight back.