Friday, March 31

Internet noise

The United States is moving ahead to allow internet providers to sell customer browsing history and related data - and the savviest internet users want to thwart the sell-off and warp the product.

There are two approaches: block your provider from viewing data or overwhelm the provider with data. 

VPNs  - or virtual private networks - block some of what the provider might see, and those with access to work or school VPNs are making a point of signing in every time they start to browse. "While VPNs are an important privacy tool, they have limitations," explains Klint Finley for Wired. "The most obvious: You need to trust your VPN provider not to track you and sell your data itself."

The second approach is directing your browser to head to all kinds of bizarre internet sites. "Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to let internet service providers sell your browsing data on the open market," explains Emily Dreyfuss, also for Wired. "This decision angered a lot of people, including programmer Dan Schultz. After reading about the vote on Twitter at 1 AM, he turned off Zelda and coded this ghost currently opening tabs on my machine."

So I headed right for the little ghost machine that's called Internet Noise, clicked the button and watch a parade of nonsensical sites, one every few seconds: godmother soap, macrame basket, wood squeegee, silvar dollar blueberry, venom catamaran, the hyena, concrete option, porthole chest and on and on.

Nothing too incriminating there for insurers, financiers, advertisers, campaign organizers or other creeps who want to accumulate, categorize and sell our data. The terms are certainly not as incriminating as those used to research my murder mysteries - especially the two set in Afghanistan, Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit.  


On the bottom of  the bare bones Internet Noise page created by Schultz are five suggestions for protecting privacy: install https, donate to the Electronic Freedom Frontier, consider Tor or using a VPN, or install Privacy Badger.

And don't forget to scream at your provider. Give them a call and find out what data they are collecting. Try to opt out - but don't trust them. More articles will be coming out about which providers offer the most privacy protections - and I doubt Comcast will make the list after donating to politicians to get this legislation passed. With luck, some providers may even discover that ensuring privacy offers a big competitive edge.

The Scream in pastel, 1895, by Edvard Munch, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. 

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