Selling and sharing browsing history to advertisers just became easier due to yesterday’s vote in the US senate. Here is our analysis of S.J.Res.34 and the steps you should take to protect your privacy if this becomes law.
Today US lawmakers voted in favor of allowing internet service providers (ISP) like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to sell and share customers’ browsing history for advertising purposes. This is a major breach of browsing history privacy. Update (4/4/2017): This resolution has now passed through Congress and was signed into law by President Trump.
How did we get here?
The Internet today is largely driven by advertising, and the fuel that powers this multi-billion dollar industry is personal data which allows advertisements to become more and more targeted. Together, companies like Google and Facebook make over one hundred billion dollars per year by selling access to the insights gleaned from personal data such as search history and private email communications.
Previously, privacy regulations set by the Obama era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made it impossible for Internet Service Providers to violate customer privacy and sell browsing history to advertisers without explicit customer consent. To bypass these regulations, the US telecom industry directly
bribed lobbied 24 US senators, including contributing over $2.2 million to their re-election campaigns. As a result, Senate Joint Resolution 34 (S.J.Res.34) was introduced.
What does this mean for online privacy?
An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is the company that provides you with web access. ISPs can see everything you do and every website you visit, since they own the internet infrastructure you are using. This means the amount of the data ISPs have on users is much larger than what search engines or social networks like Google and Facebook collect. Whether it’s Facebook, New York Times or a website that you visit in secret, your ISP has a record of all of your browsing history.
If S.J.Res.34 becomes law, this highly personal and intimate data can be sold to the highest bidder, which will presumably use this data to show invasive advertising that will pry into our private lives like never before. Even worse, no customer consent is required to do this, so your data can be sold without your permission. S.J.Res.34 has just passed the Senate, and if also approved by the US House of Representatives, it can come into effect as law, leading to a widespread loss of browsing history privacy.
How can you protect your browsing history privacy?
Because the proposed legislation does not require ISPs to get your consent before providing your browsing history to advertisers, there is nothing you can do to opt-out of this privacy violation. Not using an ISP is also not a realistic proposition, as that is equivalent to not using the Internet. However, there are several things that can be done to make sure your private browsing activity stays private.
Use a VPN
You can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to shield your browsing history from the prying eyes of your ISP. A VPN encrypts and routes your internet traffic through a private network, making it impossible for your ISP to see your browsing activity. Today, ProtonMail provides ProtonVPN beta for free to all paid ProtonMail users. For more information about VPNs, you can see our article about finding the best VPN service.
Don’t use email provided by your ISP
Your ISP likely provides you with a free email address (such as rr.com or comcast.net). Giving your ISP your browsing history is bad enough, don’t also hand over your personal email data. Going to an email provider like Gmail also isn’t a solution because Google may be even worse when it comes to your privacy. However, Gmail alternatives such as ProtonMail are much different.
Because ProtonMail utilizes end-to-end encryption, we don’t actually have the ability to read your emails, and therefore cannot sell your data to advertisers. Instead of paying with your privacy, ProtonMail is supported by paid users, which allows us to put your privacy first.
Lastly, if you are US voter who is disturbed by this new legislation, you can also contact your Congressman or Senator to voice your objection. Now more than ever, it is important to oppose efforts that attempt to put commercial interests ahead of privacy rights.
The ProtonMail Team
You can get a free secure email account from ProtonMail here.