Your Internet Browsing Data is for Sale: 4 Simple Ways You Can Help Protect Your Clients

Did you know that internet service providers (ISPs) can now sell browsing history without consent? They can and they will—but only if the data is handed to them on a silver platter.

In the final days of the Obama administration, internet privacy protections were approved that would require an internet service provider to receive permission to track and sell customer data, but in March were repealed by Congress.

Digital footprints are extremely valuable to advertisers; it’s how they can place highly targeted ads in front of users as they browse the internet.

You might be saying, “As long as I browse using incognito mode, there is nothing to worry about,” but that’s not true. When a browser is used in incognito or private mode, it only keeps from storing a list of the websites visited. The internet service provider, on the other hand, still knows exactly what websites have been accessed.

Digital footprints are extremely valuable to advertisers; it’s how they can place highly targeted ads in front of users as they browse the internet.  Not only should this be top-of-mind from a consumer perspective but, as a business owner, you need to understand that this now creates a gray area when it comes to client privacy and information sharing.

If your business sells services online or collects any personal data, you should make sure your customers feel safe by educating them as much as possible. To help your clients keep their browsing data private, advise them about one of the four following options below.

Option #1: Opt-Out of Targeted Advertising

Internet service providers don’t have to ask permission to sell browsing data and, while many won’t openly tell the consumers that they offer an opt-out option, the majority do. Most ISPs understand that they would lose a large customer base to competitors if they simply didn’t offer an opt-out option.

“They don’t make it easy to find opt-out information, but if you do enough searching you will eventually find it. For an even faster solution, call your ISP’s customer service line and ask for their opt-out link. If they give you any trouble, ask to cancel service, and watch how quickly they will point you in the right direction,” advises Tommy McDonald, Founder of SerpLogic.

For your convenience, here are the opt-out links for Charter Spectrum, T-Mobile, AT&T and Comcast that you can make available as a resource for your customers.

Option #2: Find an ISP That Openly Respects Consumer’s Privacy

There are several internet service providers that openly oppose the recent Congress repeal, and some have even banded together to voice their opposition to U.S. Representatives. The main problem that consumers will face is that most opposing ISPs are smaller companies, only servicing a very small percentage of the population.

Consumers in remote and rural areas often have one or two (if they are lucky) options available, greatly limiting the chance of having one of these anti data sharing providers to switch to. Here is a list of ISPs that oppose the recent repeal:

  • Sonic
  • Cruzio Internet
  • Etheric Networks
  • CREDO Mobile
  • Aeneas Communications
  • Digital Service Consultants Inc.
  • Om Networks
  • Hoyos Consulting LLC
  • Mother Lode Internet
  • Gold Rush Internet
  • Ting Internet
  • Tekify Fiber & Wireless
  • Davis Community Network
  • TwoP LLC
  • Mimir Networks
  • First Network Group
  • Enguity Technology Corp
  • Hubris Communications
  • Pacific Internet
  • Visionary Communications

Option #3: Browse the Internet Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

This is a quick solution, especially for consumers that don’t trust their ISP’s opt-out option. A virtual private network, or VPN, allows the customer to make the information sent online through any device encrypted. This means that everything sent from a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop becomes unreadable to anyone, the ISP included. This makes browsing activity invisible to the internet provider, preventing them from collecting and later selling it.

There are many VPNs to select from, both free and paid, and it’s advised that the consumer select one carefully. Free ones should be avoided and, while not all are bad, it’s wise to sign up with a provider that takes privacy and security very seriously. Complete privacy can’t be expected without paying for it.

To learn more about VPNs, here is a resource to help find a VPN provider, with detailed reviews and provider information. The only drawback to using a VPN is speed, as it will be a fraction slower. However, it’s a small price to pay for complete privacy.

Option #4: Use the Tor Project

The Tor Project is free software for enabling anonymous communication online. From their website:

“The Tor network is a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tor’s users employ this network by connecting through a series of virtual tunnels rather than making a direct connection, thus allowing both organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy.”

Tor can be a little slow and it isn’t the most user-friendly. But for those that want to preserve their anonymity online, it’s a viable option.

Final Thoughts on Protecting Your Internet Browsing Data

One thing is certain—ISPs are going to sell your customers browsing data if they let them. The four options above can help them protect their privacy, which is something that you should absolutely help educate them on.

From a business owner’s point of view, what are your thoughts on the recent Congress repeal? Let us know in the comments section below.

about the author

Freelance Contributor Jonathan Long is the founder of Uber Brands, an e-commerce brand-development agency.