Trump just signed a bill that lets ISPs sell your browsing data. Here's what to do now - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 4, 2017 12:58 pm

Trump just signed a bill that lets ISPs sell your browsing data. Here’s what to do now

West Philly-based advocate Kate Krauss on how to protect your privacy — and your dignity — in light of the new law.

Internet service providers, like Comcast, shown here, will now be allowed to sell user's browsing data.

(Photo by Eric Gross, used under a Creative Commons license)

This is a guest post by Kate Krauss, internet privacy advocate and Tor's former director of communications and public policy.

On Monday, President Trump signed a bill into law that will allow your internet service provider (Comcast, Verizon and even companies like AT&T) to sell your web browsing history, without your permission, for a profit — in addition to all the money they collect every month from you in fees.

So when you were looking up info about venture capitalists, or trying to find a drug treatment program for your brother or researching information on birth control — all that is going to be up for sale to the highest bidder. Maybe you don’t look at porn on the internet, but if you did, I’ve got some bad news: that history is going up for sale, too.

This is all a violation of your privacy.

Two hundred and sixty five members of Congress, many of whom have received big contributions from internet companies, were happy to sign this bill. The author of the bill, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), has received nearly $700,000 from large internet companies and lobbyists
over the years.

Some members of Congress still have their assistants print out their email. They aren’t the sharpest pencils in the box when it comes to understanding the internet. But they are cashing big checks and making big calls about your private information.

The companies plan to sell it to advertising companies and then where will it go? How good is the security at those advertising companies? Will your personal browsing history be hacked and published?  Facing a growing backlash from the public, some ISPs have promised not to sell your data, but as soon as Trump signs this bill, the law will say otherwise.

In fact, Congress may not have thought through all the possibilities when it approved this law — even for themselves. Crowdfunding campaigns run by angry constituents have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy and publish the browsing histories of Congress. Max Temkin, founder of Cards Without Humanity, has vowed to buy and publish their Internet histories, no Kickstarter required. Some experts doubt that that is technically
possible or wise, but it may indeed be possible for bad guys to hack an advertising company and blackmail a politician.

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And it is certainly a sign of constituents’ anger. Bipartisan anger. As Steve Colbert said recently, this is a bad idea “we can all hate together.” That includes smaller, smarter internet companies that
opposed the move. Local hero DuckDuckGo doesn’t even collect your search history for ethical reasons — nothing collected, nothing that can be sold or hacked. However, your browser history will still be available to your ISP to do with it what it wants.

But since Trump has signed this bill into law, it looks like we’re going to have to handle this ourselves. Here are some steps you can take to follow this issue and let politicians feel your pain.

1. Realize that members of Congress still care about getting re-elected.

That means that calls, faxes, visits and town meetings still influence them, especially if you are a constituent.

2. Get informed.

Set a news alert for updates on “Internet privacy.” Sign up for news from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Probably the leader on internet privacy in Congress is Senator Ron Wyden from the State of Oregon. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for his newsletter. People who care about Internet privacy need more allies, so it’s important to let members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, know that you care about this issue. You can also follow Internet freedom activists like @trevortimm, @emptywheel, @geminiimatt or me (@aidspol) 😀

3. Fifteen Republican members of Congress broke ranks to vote against this awful bill. You can call and just thank them for that.

Or fax them a simple note (“Dude — Thanks for caring about my privacy and opposing Senate Joint Resolution 34!”) free from your phone or computer. Calling or faxing your Congresspeople —including the good ones who voted against this bill — is a powerful thing to do. FaxZero.com lets you fax members of Congress free, and you don’t have to listen to busy signals. Members of Congress do keep track and it influences their decisions. In 2017, we should all learn to do this.

The list of House Republicans who voted against this bad bill is here and the whole House vote is here. You can also call or fax your Philly representative and thank them for protecting your private information (they all did except for Sen. Pat Toomey — you can call or fax him, too).

4. Talk about this issue with your family, friends, and neighbors — and share it on Facebook and Twitter.

This is super important. Congress was able to get away with passing this law because two weeks ago, most people were not paying attention and were not yet informed. We can change this by talking about it — and not just with your tech-savvy friends and co-workers. After all, privacy is a personal issue for all of us.

[Related: Kate Krauss’s guide to protecting your online privacy right now]

5. Try out a new privacy-protecting tool.

I’d vote for Signal, a phone app that encrypts your phone calls and texts (download it for iOS or Android). Or try the Tor browser (download it at www.torproject.org), which allows you to browse the Internet anonymously, so there is nothing for your internet company to track and sell.

Faster than Tor (though not anonymous) is a VPN but picking one is tricky, and there’s nothing except ethics to keep that VPN provider from selling your browsing history.

I’d suggest trying out riseup’s VPN. riseup is a famously ethical nonprofit organization committed to user privacy and human rights. The riseup VPN does not log your IP address, unlike most other VPNs (again: nothing logged means nothing to share, sell or hack).

Says independent security researcher Nima Fatemi:

“Picking a good, secure VPN — even for tech-savvy people — can be a difficult. There are very few service providers I know that don’t have any interest in the users’ data and take active measures to either prevent having access to it in the first place or secure it if they have. Riseup.net and Calyx.net are two of them.”

Calyx is also operated by a nonprofit organization with a strong track record of ethical behavior.

By letting members of Congress know how you feel, telling your friends and relatives and upping your online security, you can have a powerful impact on the right to privacy that we all deserve.

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Kate Krauss

Kate Krauss is an internet privacy advocate. She's the former director of communications and public policy for the Tor Project.

Profile   /   @aidspol   /   Send an email
  • OK, so it passed. This guy above has to buy the history of EVERY congress person and their aides, and publish it. Must be “put your money where your mouth is” time. There will, logically, be “protected classes.”

    • Kristine Hamilton

      The only groups that will be protected are politicians on a basis of National Security. Even children’s browser history will be bought and sold. How many pedifile groups interested in exploiting children will have access but won’t be protected?

      • Kate Krauss

        Yikes! I hadn’t even thought of that. That’s not good.

      • Pretty safe bet we truly haven’t ANY idea which groups will be protected.

  • FleurDeList

    I know you identify Toomey as a senator, but it is in the information regarding Philly representatives. He covers the whole state, of course. Sadly, he did vote for this bill. His votes have typically represented corporate interests over those of his constituents. Let’s not even get to how he votes on the environment.

    Also, while you say all Philly representatives voted against the bill, people in the suburbs shouldn’t get the idea their rep voted against the bill. Pat Meehan, my rep in the 8th district, voted for it, as did Ryan Costello in the 7th district, and a number of others. It’s best to check on your specific rep.

    govtrack.us is another good service for tracking the votes of our senators and representatives.

    • Kate Krauss

      All great points. Thank you for the info and clarifications!

    • Jennifer Hudson

      I believe you forgot to mention PureVPN since it is the only reliable option for us in these dark ages of anti privacy.

  • Keith Byars, Medical Reject

    My limited understanding: ISP’s are using your IP address and your surfing habits to figure out who you are and what you do online and offline. Many algorithms tagged with location can determine your identity with enough information about places you frequent most often. We’re giving that away with our GPS chips in our mobile devices.

    Another fun fact: many of the apps we download are granted access to your photos and saved filed on your mobile device. Why would an app from TD Ameritrade want access to your phone’s photos?

    • julez

      The good news is all of that is controllable by the end-user. Sure the end-user may just grant whatever the app wants, but they were notified about it and they were given a choice. In this instance the only choice you have is to have an internet provider or not. Not much of a choice. Where’s my opt-out button from the ISP?

    • Michael

      Banking apps like the TD one allow users to make deposits by taking pictures of checks. The app needs permission to access the camera. The camera and photos are in the same permission settings. This is why it asks that.

  • Speedify

    You can also try Philly’s own Speedify! Its an encrypted, no log VPN with channel bonding for increased speed and reliability! http://speedify.com

  • Kate Krauss

    Oh hey, if you have a Mac and want to try the nonprofit VPN by riseup, here’s the info: https://riseup.net/en/vpn/vpn-red/mac You need a riseup account. Feel free to ping me and I’ll hook you up: My contact info is at the bottom of the article.

  • Kate Krauss

    My main hope is that people will plug this stuff into their computer or
    phone and start contacting their members of Congress (maybe fax your person in Congress for
    free from faxzero.com, which is so cool and you can do it from anywhere).

    Have you tried it? How’d it go? 🙂 Let me know here or tweet at me and I’ll retweet! twitter.com/aidspol

  • Mike Sy

    Since its been signed, I think it is high time for those in the US to start using vpn service for their security. I have Astrill and it works great so I can really recommend it.

    • Kate Krauss

      The problem is that VPNs = ISPs under the new law. So the question is whether your VPN will sell your personal information. For some VPNs, this is the way they make money. In any case, now, it’s legal if they do so!

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