“I always feel like somebody’s watching me, and I have no privacy.” - Rockwell.
It’s almost as if Rockwell was foreshadowing our current predicament, although we have to remember that in 1984, there was no internet. Still, people have been worried about privacy for ages. We build fences to keep things in, walls to keep things out, and a lot of that has been carried over to the World Wide Web. So what does Congress’ new decision to loosen the leash on internet privacy rules mean for you or your business?
By now, most of us are aware that ads and videos that interest us don’t just show up on the sites we visit as a coincidence. There is a definite link between shopping for a certain brand of purse online and then suddenly seeing advertisements for those purses when you revisit, and in many cases, it can be helpful. Maybe you forgot that you were looking for that purse and maybe it happens to be on sale! Maybe you weren’t shopping, but you were looking at funny videos of talking dogs and the fact that new suggestions keep coming up feels a little bit like winning the jackpot!
On the other hand, perhaps such targeted ads make you feel as though an estranged neighbor has just rooted through your garbage can and then the next day, dangled your favorite sports drink and salty snack over the fence so that you would come over. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, especially since companies like Amazon genuinely appear to be trying to encourage you to visit your website and buy things. Then again, details are details and why should companies be allowed to remind you about that time you needed to buy hemorrhoid cream, especially while you are trying to show your friend a funny video on YouTube?
Whether or not you are creeped out by how many details about you can be traded like baseball cards online, it is still important to understand what’s going on, and even more important to know what you can do about it. With recent decisions made by Congress, selling your internet habits to advertisers is now something that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are allowed to do, and we would probably be naive to think that they won’t take advantage.
This article by The Guardian lists several ways to protect yourself or your business while engaging in online activity, the first of which is to “Use a different ISP.” Seems simple enough, and how uplifting to think that not everybody is out to make a profit on your browsing history! However, not everyone has the ability to choose their ISP.
Another idea presented in this article by Wired is to “make noise.” In other words, if you employ a robot to search a bunch of random things in the background of your actual activity, the theory is that advertisers won’t be able to pin point you as easily. Dan Schultz, who is a programmer, came up with such a program. The downside is that while it may be able to throw advertisers off your scent, the randomized nature of the program could lead to something scary if someone is actually monitoring your activity to find out if you are involved in some sort of criminal activity. You may, for instance, be Googling how to make your eyelashes grow faster, but in the background, the program could be pulling random things that are far more sinister without your knowledge.
A lot of internet security still comes down to being diligent in following the guidelines that have already been in place. For example, making sure that little green lock is in front of your web address before making an online purchase or transfer is still a good idea. Avoiding websites that do not begin with “Https” is another one. Really, what privacy comes down to (whether online or in real life) is common sense. Be aware of your surroundings and know how to protect yourself. Do your own research. Internet privacy will probably always be an issue, regardless of the addition or subtraction of rules and regulations, and all we can really do is use our education as armor.