New legislation voted on by the House and the Senate and signed into law by the President allows Internet and phone providers to collect and sell consumer data about their online visiting habits. While this legislation benefits large businesses, it does not benefit small businesses or individuals who might want to protect their Internet privacy.
Much of the Internet is free but not really. You may visit websites that provide news or a community forum that are free. Or you may use apps on your phone or PC that are free. However, there is a definite cost to provide these websites and apps: someone needs to pay for developers and the hosting platform. They way revenue is generated generally is by selling ads on the websites and in the apps.
The most effective way to present ads that you are most likely to click on is for ad providers, such as Google and others, to collect as much data about you as possible. For instance, if you are a married, middle-aged man with an interest is restoring vintage cars, you are unlikely to click on ads that appeal to a single, college-aged man with an interest in surfing. So the ad providers want you to see ads that appeal to your demographics, income level and interests.
It’s no secret that Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo and others are prolific in collecting data about you. And this recent legislation now allows your Internet and phone provider, such as AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, Comcast and others others, to collect even more of your personal. The data collected by your Internet and phone provider is the missing piece of the puzzle because information brokers can link your name, address and phone number to your browsing habits and Internet activity.
There is a huge market for your personal data. Data brokers buy information about you from Internet providers, web properties, telephone companies. They then sell it to insurance companies, retailers, university admissions offices, employers, telemarketers and just about anyone who wants to know your personal details. Because the data broker industry is unregulated, it is rife with abuse as unscrupulous companies often buy data to scam people and sell questionable goods and services.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Privacy
Chances are, data brokers already have a full dossier about you. If you dare to look, check out this data brokers website: https://aboutthedata.com (registration and identity verification required). The good thing is that the data they collect is highly perishable, meaning that the value of the data drops if it is not kept up to date. People change jobs, their incomes fluctuate, their life situations change, people get married or divorced. So you can start protecting your Internet privacy today and make a difference.
Your Personal Privacy Toolkit
Start Using Firefox browser. Google is notorious for providing free products. However, using the Chrome browser and Google search engine allows Google to vacuum up all kinds of data about you. Microsoft, Yahoo and others are have the same practices. Therefore, the first thing you want to do is install Mozilla Firefox and make it your default browser. Firefox does not share your personal data.
What about Tor browser? The Tor project originated with the US Navy Research Lab to protect US intelligence communications online. It consists of a browser and a network of nodes used to obscure and encrypt communication. It is easy to use, secure for casual use but it can slow and blocks many scripts the break the functionality of some websites. A paid VPN subscription service (see below) is preferred but Tor is a reasonable, free alternative.
Use the DuckDuckGo search engine. This search engine does not store your personal data or history. You can change your default search engine in the settings of your browser. Hopefully you will be using Firefox.
Install privacy browser add-ons. There are three recommended add-ons or plug-ins for your browser that will block tracking cookies and ads and encrypt your browsing traffic: Privacy Badger, HTTPS-Everwhere, and AdBlock Plus. You can search and install these add-ons in Firefox settings – add-ons.
Use a VPN subscription service. A virtual private network (VPN) service will encrypt your Internet connection so your Internet provider will not be able to see your Internet activity. It is also a critical service if you ever use public WiFi. Choose a VPN service that you trust explicitly to protect your privacy and does not keep activity logs. The VPN service that we recommend and is an AXICOM referral partner is Private Internet Access, or PIA, which costs about $40 per year and works on your phone, computer and entire network (advanced configuration required for whole network VPN service). You can check it out here: http://axcm.it/2nf1aaz.
Use end-to-end encrypted messenger service. Your SMS text-messaging service on your phone allows your phone provider to collect, examine and log all your message traffic. Consider a messaging service such as WhatsApp or Signal for better privacy. WhatsApp is very popular and your contacts may already be using it. It also has many features such as text, video and voice chat, as well as desktop messaging which allows you to send messages between your computer and a mobile phone. Signal is a newer app with great security and offers only basic messaging.
You Are On Your Own
The tools above will help keep a lot of your Internet habits and interests private but there are many other ways that data brokers can collect your data. They buy data from websites which require your registration, from credit card companies, retailer's loyalty card programs, finance and mortgage companies, your state department o motor vehicles, and other sources. You should definitely get in the habit of reading the privacy policies of any business ith whom you have a relationship. Many of these privacy policies include instructions on how to opt-out of their data-sharing program.
The federal government has signaled that we, the citizens, are on your own regarding protecting our Internet privacy. It is incumbent upon each of use to remain vigilant and knowledgeable about Internet privacy and how data collected about us is used and abused. These few tools and a couple of habit changes will go along way to keep your privacy secure.