3 ways to protect your browsing history
Posted April 5
Well, it’s official. After Congress and the Senate voted to overturn Obama-era regulations that prohibited internet service providers from tracking and selling customers’ browsing history, Trump signed the bill into law Monday.
Abolishing these regulations allows ISPs like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to track what their customers search online and in apps, then sell that information to advertisers. ISPs previously had to ask permission to collect private data.
With an influx of private data, agencies can more specifically target their advertisements to individuals. According to the New York Times, companies will be able to tell where people go to lunch, what illnesses they have and when they wake up, based solely on the information they receive from ISPs.
The bill will not go into effect until at least Dec. 4, 2017, according to Ars Technica, a technology news website.
"Lawmakers have said regulations should be created only when there is proof of harmful activity," the New York Times reported. "They also argue that the telecom industry competes with internet firms such as Facebook and Google for access to online content, so any rules should also include those companies."
Hiding browsing history from Google, however, is much easier than hiding it from Comcast. Internet users have a wealth of different browsers to choose from, but not many ISPs. Transitioning to “incognito” mode while browsing Google also effectively stops Google from tracking visited sites.
Many customers are now wondering how they can still maintain privacy and avoid having their browsing history tracked and sold by their ISP. It’s possible that ISPs will roll out plans that allow customers to opt out of selling their browser history for an additional fee, but until then, here are three ways to keep your browsing history off the market:
Use a VPN
“In the simplest terms, (VPNs) create a secure, encrypted connection between your computer (or phone, tablet, etc.) and a private server somewhere else, preventing anyone else from seeing or modifying that traffic,” the Verge reported. “When you browse the internet, data goes to the server, which passes it securely back to you. When you send data out, it appears to come from the server, not your computer.”
CNN Tech notes that it’s important to do research and to read the fine print before investing in a VPN, since some still sell browsing history to advertisers.
Most experts recommend avoiding free VPNs since many may have security issues. Kenneth White, an internet security engineer and director of the Open Crypto Audit Project, recommend to CNN a VPN called Algo for the technically savvy, and one called Cloak for those who aren’t.
Use a different ISP
While major ISPs will take advantage of this change, there are some who don’t want to sell. Sonic, Cruzio Internet and Etheric Networks wrote a letter opposing the regulation rollback saying they value customer privacy.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t have a huge range of ISP options, especially those in rural areas.
Tor is a browser software that protects users by “bouncing… communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world.” It prevents people from learning a user’s location or tracking sites they visit.
It can be difficult to install, leads to slower internet speeds and requires regular updates, so it’s not the best option for those who don’t feel particularly tech savvy. It was also described by The Economist as “a darker corner of the web” since it’s used for both legal and illegal activity. It is an option, however.
Internet users who are adamant about protecting their browser history may want to consider some of these options. Otherwise, they may begin to see very specific advertisements, tailored just for them.