Staff member
Malware Hunter
In late March, Congress approved a bill lifting restrictions imposed on ISPs last year concerning what they could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data, and Social Security numbers. They additionally absolved ISPs of the need to strengthen their existing customer data holdings against hackers and thieves. For more on the particulars of the bill, you can see reports on the Washington Post and Ars Technica. Given that the repealed restrictions hadn’t yet come into effect, the immediate impact of the new bill is somewhat unclear. But given what typically happens with massive stores of aggregated, location-specific customer data, the prognosis is not good.

So what’s the worst that can happen? Let’s run through a few probable outcomes:
We all might be familiar with this; when we buy a product online and then see ads for it relentlessly for a couple weeks thereafter. But with increased granularity of metadata, ad retargeting can be significantly more ‘effective.’ As an example, certain tech support scam companies prefer to draw their staff directly from complicit drug detoxes and rehabs, largely in order to ensure a compliant, desperate employee base. So the next time someone searches for help with an intractable heroin addiction, they might get targeted ads for unlicensed rehabs that come with a new job opportunity of scamming the elderly. Perhaps if my browser history correlates to those of low income or unemployed people, my ads would fill with work from home scams. Or low literacy search phrasing, in conjunction with low income, could get me directed to multi-level marketing scams. There are a cornucopia of ways to target the weak and vulnerable via metadata and it’s both legal and profitable.


Browser History Ransom

But this is bad and I don’t want this?
Although options are limited and sometimes frustrating, there are some things you can do. To combat ad retargeting, an ad blocker works quite well. It’s awfully tough to be taken in by deceptive or fraudulent, or just too intrusive advertising if you can’t see it. However, many of the most reputable news sites rely on advertising for revenue, so they ask users to disable ad blockers in order to access content. This doesn’t really address the issue of shadowy third parties doing untoward things with your data, which brings us to…

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
Here be dragons, though, because many VPN providers are no more trustworthy than the ISPs that we all love so dearly. If you go to a VPN review site you can see the latest VPNs and how they stack up on quality criteria, which generally include, but are not limited to:

  • Do they keep logs of your activity?
  • How much identifiable data do they keep on you?
  • Do they have physical control over their own VPN servers?
  • What countries are their servers located in?
Check out some reviews of popular VPNs based on answers to these questions here. Another question that you should be asking is how much a VPN costs. Free ones generally find some unsavory ways to monetize your traffic, which is what you’re trying to avoid to begin with.

HTTPS Everywhere



Level 4
I do have mixed feelings about this whole situation, but from what I have been hearing, the point of it was to return the oversight of the Internet back to the FTC where it belongs and away from the FCC which was responsible for the draconian Net Neutrality regulations which were anything but neutral. It designated the Internet as a public utility like water and electricity (which is straight up asinine), and allowed the government to issue dictates in which it picked winners and losers. That is the antithesis of the free market. Not to mention Net Neutrality could have eventually led to Internet taxes, government restrictions and censorship, technological stagnation, and barriers to entry. The idea of treating all Internet traffic as equal is ridiculous. Here is a good article from last year about it:

The government has absolutely no right to tell ISPs like Verizon and Comcast what they can and can't do with their OWN network. This was an attempted take over of the Internet by the government plain and simple, and all under the guise of equality and so called consumer protection. And let's also not forget about how close America was to giving up control of ICANN to the "global community" in which countries like communist China would have had influence over it. Ever hear of the Great Firewall of China?

With this new bill I would say the upside is now that instead of the millions of sites that weren't required to follow these same privacy guidelines (like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and many I said picking winners and losers), are now required to. But as for the estimated 2,570 ISPs, it is important to put pressure on your congressman/woman to amend this bill to include strong consumer privacy protections. If anything make it a simple consumer information sharing opt out clause and make sure it's not tucked away somewhere in a 50 page EULA or difficult to find on their websites.
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