In light of both the House and Senate voting to reverse forthcoming privacy regulations, interest in privacy measures that can be taken by the end-user are no doubt piqued. While there is no comprehensive solution to end all privacy woes—outside of, you know, stringent privacy laws—there are a few different steps that can be taken. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the big one, although they come with a few of their own caveats. The Tor software offers the most ways to anonymize a user’s online presence and more, although it can be involved. Smaller actions include adjusting DNS settings and using the HTTPS Everywhere extension.
Read on, as we will delve into these in a bit more detail. This guide serves as a tutorial to setting up a VPN and protecting your privacy online.
This was largely no surprise, given the stance that both the current administration and the newly appointed head of the FCC have adopted. The reversal of the rules traveled quick enough through the House and Senate that constituents had little chance to mitigate the overturn. We’ve covered this issue since it became public news, but in the event you’re not up to date, the now non-existent rules would have required ISPs to obtain clear consent before using data for advertising and other monetary purposes.
“What the hell do you have to lose?”
That was the question that now President Trump asked the American people while campaigning. The answer? Internet privacy rights. That’s on top of the other regulations that, according to the current administration, stifle innovation and are harmful to business.
In a vote along party lines, House Republicans successfully voted to repeal privacy protections that were set to go in effect December 2017. All that is left is for President Trump to sign and approve the measure, and there is no reason to believe he will do otherwise. The conservative lawmakers controlling both the House and Senate were not alone in the crusade against digital rights—far from it. Several advertising trade associations both urged and applauded the action, as can be read in this statement. The Internet and Television Association, which represents many broadband providers, has praised the votes against the new rules. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has also staunchly opposed both narrow privacy regulations and net neutrality. For readers unfamiliar with the latter group, their espousal to limited government politics and “virtuous capitalism” is particularly laughable. As expected, they too applauded the deregulatory move.
Also worth mentioning is the chump change needed to sway lawmakers. Put another away: how much does privacy cost? Granted, buying Senators and Congress members isn’t exclusive to one party line or another, but one party responded remarkably well to it for this vote. This list details the contributions made to Senators supporting anti-privacy since 2012. Additionally, this list details how much money Congress members have received. While it seems easy to make an overly simplistic connection between money and votes—and neither party is above taking charitable donations from varying industries—it is worth noting that this vote was extremely partisan, and no champion of the bill offered to substantiate the reason this legislation is good for consumers, other than uttering elusive “anti-consumer” and “free market” platitudes. Similar regurgitant is being recited while plans to unwind the EPA, renewable energy, and climate change policies are being put in motion.
While this kind of regression in the digital age is alarming, there are other policies in place that protect consumers, albeit not to the same extent. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act all have privacy provisions relating to customer information. Specifically, Title II, Section 222 of the Telecommunications Act imposes privacy requirements; however, they are from 1996 and mostly apply to telecom services. The FCC vowed to write new internet-specific rules regarding how ISPs are to handle privacy. In a rare win for privacy advocates, the rules (which passed last year) explicitly detailed how ISPs were to store and handle data, and offer customers clear notices and opt-in requirements. Those rules are all but nullified now. If AT&T’s arguably unconstitutional surveillance business model is any indicator, archaic laws are not sufficient for modern internet access.
Last year the FCC laid out landmark rules protecting internet privacy. Now, the current FCC leadership and members of the U.S. Senate are actively seeking to erase them. In fact, S.J. Res. 34 has already passed the Senate, and H.J. Res. 86—The House version of the bill—goes to Congress immediately. The House plans to take up the legislation this week, and we can be assured that is so constituents are not afforded the opportunity to learn the damage that is being done.
For those in need of a primer, eliminating the privacy protections will allow ISPs to aggressively monetize personal data without consent—to the tune of selling internet activity to marketers, targeted advertising, and redirecting traffic to paying third parties. For those interested in acting—and that should be everyone who uses the internet—towards preserving the rights to online privacy, here are some ways to get involved.
The right-to-repair bills (otherwise known as “Fair Repair”) that are making their way across a few different states are facing staunch opposition from The Entertainment Software Association, a trade organization including Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo as well as many video game developers and publishers. The proposed legislation would not only make it easier for consumers to fix consoles, but electronics in general, including cell phones. Bills have been introduced in Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Kansas. Currently, the bill is the furthest along in Nebraska where the ESA have concentrated lobbying efforts.
Console makers have been a notable enemy of aftermarket repair, but they are far from alone; both Apple and John Deere have vehemently opposed this kind of legislation. In a letter to the Copyright Office, John Deere asserted—among other spectacular delusions, like owners only have an implied license to operate the tractor—that allowing owners to repair, tinker with, or modify their tractors would “make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software.”