Hints and Tips

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Your ISP Sells Your Information

In March 2017 our Republican Congress sold your rights to privacy to large Internet Service Providers (ISPs). They didn't make anything new. They just struck down a law that would take effect this year to require ISPs to ask your permission before selling information. This page will discuss what that information is and how you can prevent your ISP from gathering and selling it.

First of all, your ISP can't read encrypted data. If you visit a site that starts with https://, your data is safe. If, however, you access your web pages or email with http://, you're wide open. They can gather every form you submit, the contents of your email, your internet searches. They see the contents of every web page you visit. Thus they know what Black Friday deals you're looking at, your Web-MD symptoms, your kids' birthdays on your Google Calendar, your ebay favorites. Just about everything.

Even on a secure (https://) site, they still know where you are. For instance, if they see that one particular laptop in your house visits kids' websites, that laptop will start seeing ads targeting kids. They'll know where you bank, your political views, and your sexual orientation. They'll know what time of day you're home.

Remember that they may already be gathering and selling all this information. What the Senate did when they were bought was to strike down the New law that said they had to stop.

OK. So how do we stop it? There are a few ways to help.

Always use https://
As I said, with secure browsing (the "s" in https), your ISP can know what you visit but not the details. That's a step. There's a nifty extension for your browser called https Everywhere that rewrites all your links to use https. The only rub with this is that many websites don't offer a secure https server. It's a step, though. Right?

Use a VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) channels your web traffic through a secure server. Think of it as a sort of pipeline. When you call a web site, the traffic goes through this pipe to a VPN provider. They, in turn, call the website and send the data back through the pipe to you. This is what you should always use when using a public wifi network in an airport etc. Always!

Your ISP will only show that you connected to the VPN. That's all. Not bad. Of course, your VPN provider can collect and sell your info just like an ISP. They, however, don't have the motivation that AT&T or Verizon may have.

Use Tor
While each VPN is operated by a single provider, Tor is a distributed network that tries to preserve anonymity by routing traffic through a series of relays. When you use the Tor software, your IP address remains hidden and it appears that your connection is coming from the IP address of a Tor exit relay, which can be anywhere in the world.

Remember the "pipe" analogy for the VPN? Well, Tor works like a bunch of baseball players warming up. Your web request is tossed randomly all around the field. Each ball player is a "node" and each might be in a different country. Where it ends up is called the "exit node". Someone running a node (one of the players) sees info going by (the ball) but has no way of knowing where it started or where it's going.

This, however, comes at a price in speed. It's not too bad though. If you're serious about your privacy, it's about the best way to go. Setting it up means downloading a special web browser. You can Get It Here. This browser is actually Firefox which has been specially modified to use the Tor Network.

Ignore the whole thing
Of course you might not care what they gather. If that's the case, just ignore the whole thing. You can also, for instance, install Tor and only use it for certain websites. If you're going to look up "foot fungus" on Web-MD and don't want to start getting fungus ads on every webpage, just use Tor for that query.