Data Dump: Is your privacy about to go public?


If a stranger walked up to you on the street and asked to view your search history on your cell phone or read your text messages, would you let them?  Would you even feel comfortable letting your spouse, mom, or dad read it?  Not likely, but now, it’s perfectly legal for your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to read it and sell it.

It has been standard practice for your ISP to collect data from monitoring your internet browsing habits and then sell it off for marketing purposes.  In 2016, a rule not yet in effect, was created with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which requires you to opt-in before your ISP sells your data.  On March 28, both the houses in Congress along party lines, voted to roll back the 2016 rule.  The President signed the bill on April 3. With the implementation of this law, ISPs can now do whatever they want with your internet history without your consent.

ISPs were lobbying that they were at a major disadvantage when it comes to places such as Facebook and Google that can collect data and can target certain markets.  But the key difference is, no one forces you to use Facebook or Google.  You have a personal choice if you want to share, when to share it and to which group of people.  You don’t have to be on Facebook, but you must use your ISP to use the Internet.

Here in Culpeper, if you have broadband internet, you probably don’t have a choice of providers.  Very few people have that choice, but what can you do to protect yourself from privacy snooping ISPs?

First, all web browsers have a “do not track” or “incognito mode”, but this only hides your browsing history from the next person that uses that computer, not from your ISP.

You can purchase a third party Virtual Private Network (VPN) service that will encrypt your traffic to a random destination, but you must trust the VPN provider with your data.  So, it is important to do your research on the privacy policy of VPN providers.

For Chrome, Firefox or Opera web browsers, you can install HTTPS Everywhere that will make sure your browser uses a secure connection.  The ISP will still be able to track you to a degree.  For example, if you go to WebMD, your ISP will be able to see you went there but not which specific pages you visited.

You can also try and call your ISP to opt-out of the tracking.  It’s anyone’s guess how effective that approach will work since the customer service track record of ISPs is some of the worst for any type of business out there.

It is ironic that with a major ramp up of the government’s cyber security programs due to alleged  Russian interference in the 2016 election, that the same elected officials passed a law revoking the rights of citizens to any privacy when using the internet.

At this point I cannot see how this law brings anything positive to the average person, but I am curious on your take, agree or disagree?

John Barker is the Chief Operating Office with Attollo Systems LLC in Culpeper. You may reach him at or 540-317-3150 ext 1001