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Your Internet Privacy Part II: Internet Protections

This is Part II in a Series. Check out Part I here

Let’s zoom in a bit on what we’re up against here.

Remember Tom? “Your ISP handles all of your internet traffic” Tom? Tom is honest. We like Tom. If you’ve been thinking of ISP snooping as Google plastering ads for O’Reilly Auto Parts all over YouTube because you looked up “rattling engine” a few minutes ago, you’re not wrong. Your ISP wants to be Google when it grows up. When Ajit Pai says that an internet privacy law is unfair to ISPs, he means it’s unfair that Google can use your searches to make money but AT&T would be left out.

The thing is, there are ways to get Google and certain specific sites to stop spying on you like that, and if all else fails, you do not need to use them. You need an ISP or you can’t get online. And by the very nature of their service, you have no choice but to pass all information through them.

Imagine HIPAA didn’t exist. You can’t go anywhere but to a doctor if you’ve got, say, chronic migraines, and by nature of their job the doctor has tons of personal data on you. Without HIPAA, that doctor would be free to give away your name, age, gender, sexuality, social, and you and your family’s health risks to the highest bidder. (See the recent Kickstarter trying to buy congress’ browsing data. Hilarious, but with a point: to anyone with the cash, it’s a legal purchase.)

Fry’s uses a shopper’s card to measure consumer data, trading you discounts for the fact that you’re buying a lot of Excedrin and icepacks. Maybe it’ll send you coupons, or make sure they keep it stocked. Is it unfair that Fry’s can do that with your permission, but the doctor can’t sell your medical records behind your back?

Okay, exit rhetorical metaphor. Say I wasn’t on Twitter being politically outspoken under my real name with a rainbow Rebel Alliance symbol as my profile pic. Using my ISP, I shop for women’s clothes using my credit card, do homework, do taxes, set doctor’s appointments, order college textbooks, google symptoms (I know, sue me), visit Desert Dissenter, and use an LGBT-friendly dating app. All of the above information plus political preference, school, area of study, financial situation, interests, current location, potentially your email content, all those things a stalker would love to know.

What can they do with all that?

It all depends on the ISP and your personal level of security. There are little creepy/annoying things that crop up with all of them, like my classmate’s ISP knowing that he looked up another and robocalling him with special offers to stay. My teacher got a physical letter from a site he never gave an address to, and for two weeks after giving her contact information to a single site, my mom kept getting calls and email from every car dealership in town.

Then there’s AT&T – with both Internet Preferences and Project Hemisphere, I’m convinced they are the reason ISPs need regulating. Fortunately, Preferences ended last October. My guess is that it’s because if you wanted a normally priced service with normal quality, you had to let it stalk you. If you didn’t want to be constantly bombarded with calls, emails and letters from AT&T and elsewhere, tough. Take the speed hit and fork over another $60. But Hemisphere, as far as I know, is still running. Ever see Person of Interest? If so, Samaritan came to mind. If not, a.) watch Person of Interest, and b.) no warrant required to request records from up to thirty years ago.

Thirty. 1987. It’s an admittedly useful law enforcement tool, but guess who’s paying, guess who’s profiting, and guess what’s constitutionally shaky? Go ahead. Read. It’s a real thing.

Okay, so you can get paranoid. In a healthy way. Seriously, don’t panic. There are preventative measures you can take, and some you may not realize you’re using that have already prevented collection. We’ll get there. In the meantime, stay the hell away from AT&T, read your ISP’s entire Privacy Policy, and never let Flake live this down.

Guest Blog by Katrina Hockman


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