5 ways to keep your browsing data (more) private

Laptop wearing a disguise

The question of how Internet Service Providers may use your private browsing data is a contentious one. Recent news assures that it will remain so.

On March 28, the House of Representatives passed S.J.Res. 34, rolling back a Federal Communication Commission rule that required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to get permission from their customers before selling data gleaned from their Internet use. Because the measure had previously passed the Senate, the next stop was President Trump’s desk. Now that the President has signed the repeal, ISPs can revert back to operating under the rules regarding your data that they followed prior to January 3, 2017, when the FCC rule took effect.

This means that ISPs will be able to harvest your browsing data, and use it to sell targeted advertising services similar to Google and Facebook. Unlike Google and Facebook, your ISP has access to ALL of your browsing data, unless you take steps to protect it.

Protecting your Privacy online with a VPN

If you are concerned about your online privacy, there are tools that can help you protect it. One such tool is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN enables you to send and receive data over the Internet, as if you were on a private network. It does so by using encryption and a technique known as IP tunneling. Because your data is encrypted, your ISP cannot simply pluck it from the network.

WiscVPN

One VPN service is WiscVPN. WiscVPN also allows you to access restricted campus resources, such as web sites, databases, and applications even if you’re using a commercial ISP or an open WiFi hotspot. It is available for free to UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students.

A VPN is not a magic bullet, however, some consumer devices don’t support VPN connections; if you’re browsing YouTube, Vimeo, or the web on your smart TV at home, that browsing data may be vulnerable.

SSL

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encrypts data sent between browsers and websites. Make sure that the websites to which you’re submitting data are using SSL. If the URL begins with HTTPS, and if your browser displays the Lock icon next to the location field, the site is secured with SSL. ISPs will still be able to see which sites and pages you visit from Domain Name Server (DNS) traffic, but not the specific content.

Protecting ALL your devices’ data

A tool that can help protect your data on all the devices on your home network is DNSCrypt.

“In the same way the SSL turns HTTP web traffic into HTTPS encrypted Web traffic, DNSCrypt turns regular DNS traffic into encrypted DNS traffic that is secure from eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks.”

Plugins and Addons

Browser plugins can also help. Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere are two well regarded and highly recommended tools.

Opting Out

While your ISP is no longer required to get your permission to sell your data, you may be able to opt out of their targeted advertising programs. See Time Warner/Spectrum’s privacy dashboard here. Comcast customers, see these instructions. Verizon customers, look here. AT&T’s privacy policy and options are here.