How ISPs Sell Your Data (and How to Stop Them)

At home, in your work environment or even at a café, you want privacy while browsing the world wide web. You don’t necessarily have to be doing something terrible or ethically questionable; instead, you don’t want any prying eyes on your computer screen or mobile device. It is that simple.

The problem is, when you think that nobody is watching, you have the eyes of your Internet Service Provider (ISP) writing down every page you visit, the duration of your session, your shopping record, your email communications, and virtually everything you do online. Did you know that?

There are some power and leverage to be held by your generated traffic. Sure, you may not like being spied on, but your ISP can make money by selling your data logs around the web –  a lot of money.

Why do Internet Service Providers sell your data around the Internet? Well, the answer could be broad as there may be several points of interest regarding the traffic you generate when you go online.

However, the most common practice is for online shops and companies to build a ‘potential customer profile,’ with the future intention of making advertising messages directed exclusively to you.

And the perfect way to do this is using your browsing history, favorite pages to visit and recent shopping records to have a much more personalized way of getting to you and achieving a sale.

The eternal struggle for online privacy

Last year, the history of Americans’ privacy may have changed forever. The US Senate ruled in favor of overturning a fundamental broadband rule that was instituted but not put in practice while Barack Obama was the president.

If you are an American telecommunications company, that ruling brings fantastic news for you. However, if you are on the other side of the street and are an ordinary Internet user, then know that your ISP can sell your data without even needing your explicit consent.

Both before and now, Internet companies and providers could, and can, collect logs of your data and online activities, but now, the game has changed, and you may have a hard time getting out of it.

How do Internet Service Providers sell your data?

The ruling in questions refers to the Seate vote on S.J. Res 34. It determines whether the FCC (the Federal Communications Commission, or the Federal Trade Commission for that matter) would be able to serve as a regulator of your privacy settings on an individual scale. Since 2016, the agency has fought hard to give users more control over the decisions being made about their traffic.

However, current President of the United States Donald Trump already signed the bill that would repeal FCC ISP rulings regarding privacy. That legal instrument would have meant that people would need to provide consent and explicit permission to Internet Service Providers in the country to distribute and sell their data around the web.

The explicit consent that we mention here goes by the name of “opt-in.” Now, Americans are anxious about their privacy because ISPs have gained even more power, and they don’t want you to opt out, and they will put up millions of hurdles to prevent you from doing just that.

What can you do?

You can still protect your generated data and traffic, but the fact of the matter is that you don’t have that many options. What is happening in the United States of America is a clear violation of one of the most prominent human rights on the declaration, which is privacy.

Of course, you can try to contact your ISP’s customer service, but make no mistake: they will establish all kinds of barriers and obstacles before letting you opt out of sharing your data with them, that if you ever accomplish it.

The sad part is that with the FCC’s new rules in action, you could have had the decision power to opt in or out as you would have liked. However, that is not the case now, and the reality is that you will have a much harder time finding the opt-out option on the website of your ISP if you are lucky enough to have a provider that possesses it.

VPNs: Tools for encryption and privacy

If you want to protect your privacy, then implementing a Virtual Private Network may be your best path to take. VPNs are online services that offer encryption via secure protocols and technologies such as OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, IKEv2, and PPTP, among others.

They enhance your online security, privacy, and anonymity because they can hide not only your IP address (so you will be much harder to track online,) but also your shared data and traffic.

With a VPN, you will gain invisibility throughout your online sessions, and you will be able to avoid government surveillance agencies snooping, hackers, online retail stores sending you annoying advertising messages, and, of course, your Internet Service Provider.

VPNs function by masking your IP address and letting you use a new one for the duration of your session. Since it will be, naturally, different than yours, all the third-parties (including your ISP) won’t see you when you are connected to the Internet. You can choose where to connect from a pool of servers and countries available on your VPN provider’s list.

What the VPN does is making all your internet data travel through secure remote servers, where they will be off-limits to your ISP, the government, hacker, virus programmers, crypto miners, and everything and everyone interacting on the web.

VPNs may slow down your connection a little bit, which can’t be an ideal scenario for streaming. However, the technology as a whole is exceptionally efficient, and in fact, there are fast VPNs as well, so you can find some choices that won’t slow down your Internet connection.

Best VPN to prevent your ISP from selling your data

  • PureVPN: When it comes to privacy and Internet security, PureVPN has no rival. It implements all the major protocols – including OpenVPN – and other services such as anonymous email, anonymous proxy, and privacy bundle.

The VPN service costs $10.95 per month if you go with a month-to-month plan, and you can get servers in 140+ countries, fantastic customer service with guides, tutorials and a live chat feature, the ability to connect five simultaneous devices and a killswitch.

  • IPVanish: You may think that being based in the US would represent a problem for IPVanish and its users, but the fact is that they collect no data logs from their users.

With this service, you can enjoy fast downloading speeds and a good streaming experience; plus servers from 60 different nations, more than 40,000 IP addresses, a kill switch, DNS leak protection and the most relevant protocols, all for $10 per month.

  • Private Internet Access: Don’t let PIA (Private Internet Access) fool you because of its simple, but the very high-performance interface and low prices: it is a more than capable VPN provider, with comparable encryption quality than the ones listed in this piece.

You could get deals and discounts that can drive the cost all the way down to $3.33, but the standard monthly fee is $6.95. You get more than 3,000 servers in 29 countries around the world and, most importantly for this matter, a strict no logging policy.

Use Tor for enhanced anonymity

On top of using a VPN of your choice, you could also implement a service like Tor to combat the obnoxious spying being conducted by your Internet Service Provider. It is a free network that promotes anonymous web browsing. It means “The Onion Router,” hence the name (Tor).

While much slower than a VPN and not made for the same purpose, Tor is a useful tool if you want anonymity online. With Virtual Private Networks, you will be protected from virtually anyone and your experience would be completely anonymous if you hadn’t had to focus or worry about your provider selling your logs around. Tor, on the other hand, provides an entirely anonymous experience as nobody will have access to your records.

The Tor network or browser “relays” traffic; thanks to a free and volunteer overlay network consisting on seven thousand relays working together to divide data into small pieces, a process that makes it almost impossible for spies such as your ISP to understand and use.

All of your activity and generated traffic on Tor would be protected from spying, including the most elementary performances such as sending emails and browsing the web. Obviously, your ISP will not sell your logs around if it doesn’t have access to them.

Can you opt out of seeing your data being manipulated by your ISP?

In theory, you could. However, after the legal development explained in this article, it won’t be that easy. The FCC rules would have helped users to get out of their ISP’s arrangement to sell their data with a very straightforward “opt-in” question, in which the user needed to provide explicit permission for the Internet company to go ahead with its plan.

The FCC fought hard, no doubt about that. But, ultimately, the ISPs fought even harder. Now, you are stuck with all the barriers you are going to encounter from your ISP when you find out the ramifications of seeing your data being sold around.

The privacy policies of ISPs are often confusing and ambiguous. For example, numerous companies tell you that they won’t sell any personal data to anyone online, but can you be sure that your definition of ‘personal information’ is the same as theirs?

Facebook and Google, for example, don’t fall into the same category as ISPs, as they can collect logs of their users and sell them around with no hassle. Internet Providers, meanwhile, want a piece of the cake too, which is fine for them, but awful news to the average users.

In conclusion, the painful truth is that your privacy is being messed with and you are in the middle of a political struggle. There are things you can do to make sure you have enough privacy to fend off your ISP’s intentions, though, such as getting your hands on a reliable VPN service. Hope it all helps! Don’t think twice to hit us via the comments section below if you still need us for anything around this article’s topic or internet privacy and security in general.

Top/featured Image courtesy of Fernando Arcos via Pexels