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Tech Talk

Be careful, the Internet is watching


tech mayYou may not have realized this, but for the last month, and every month going forward, your web browsing history has been packaged and sold. In two disgustingly fast weeks in late March, both houses of the United States Congress and President Donald Trump sold you out. Both Iowa senators and all three Republican representatives voted to repeal a late-term FCC regulation signed by President Obama that required Internet service providers to ask subscribers for permission before selling their web usage and browsing history.

At this point, we could hunt feverishly through the history of the Communications Act of 1934 and write a book on why preserving the amended rules established by the Obama administration were necessary, but the time for that has passed. There’s no point in crying over a regulation that is not only toast but is never coming back. And before you drip too many tears on your smartphone screen, know that ISPs never stopped selling your data. The Obama regulation was halted before its effective date in late March. So, what to do now?

If you can calm your politically frayed nerves, the first thing you should do is consider living a normal life. There is very little difference between what ISPs are now allowed to do and what Google, Facebook and many other websites have been doing. If you’ve been looking at designer shoes online, Internet service providers (ISPs) now have the green light to clue in shoe companies and make a few bucks off it. You don’t care when every site online does it, so why should you care when Mediacom or Comcast does it?

There is the not-so-paranoid flipside of the coin where it doesn’t have to be brands buying your data. With no regulations about monitoring and selling your specific web usage, there are a lot of nefarious people and organizations that would love to make that purchase. How can you fight back? Put down the tinfoil hat, because it’s time to get technical.

First, enable HTTPS Everywhere. Whenever you log on to a social network, check your email, make a purchase, or do some Internet banking, a site’s web address starts with “HTTPS,” or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. The “S” means your actions within that secure site are encrypted. Any communication between your device and the website is seen by your ISP only as encrypted numbers and letters. Enabling Chrome, FireFox or Opera’s HTTPS Everywhere extension asks those sites to only load HTTPS pages. Of course, not all sites have an HTTPS option, so the next step is using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

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A VPN hides your location and encrypts your data so it’s extremely hard to monitor and nearly impossible to track. There are several flavors of VPN, they aren’t the easiest to set up, and they can cost a bit of money to establish. But if you want to keep big brother in the dark, this is the way. ♦

patboberg bwPatrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.



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