How many people can see your online information? is your internet privacy jeopardize?
In 2017, the answer might be more than you think… and definitely more than you want.
The past few months have seen online privacy taking some serious blows. It’s unclear what the future will be, but we will definitely have to be cautious with our use of the internet if we want to keep our personal information to ourselves.
Here are some of the top recent news stories showing the decline of internet privacy, and what they mean for you.
U.S. Congress votes to sell your search history to advertisers
Last October, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a new regulation to protect internet users’ privacy. The regulation required that internet service providers (ISPs) follow privacy requirements before they could share users’ personal information or sell it to marketers.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Unfortunately, Congress didn’t think so. The measure was struck down just a few days ago, on March 28th, in a 215-205 vote.
If you’re alarmed that corporations are now going to get a hold of your browsing history and other private data, you should be, but keep in mind that this information was already being passed around. The new regulations hadn’t gone into effect yet, so this rollback just means the status quo will be maintained… with some implications that should make us worry.
So what does this decision mean for us?
Most ISPs don’t currently sell customer data to advertisers. However, the door is now open for them to do so in the future.
The FCC will be forbidden from issuing similar regulations, so this will be a lasting blow against internet privacy.
ISPs will now be able to:
- Monitor customers’ online behavior without their knowledge or permission
- Use personal data and financial information to harass users with personalized, highly targeted ads
- Sell personal data directly to marketers, corporations, financial firms and other companies
It’s bad enough that Google and Facebook are mining data on a massive scale, now we have to worry about Comcast and Verizon.
Browsing records are kept on servers owned by the ISPs, so deleting your search history or using Incognito mode won’t do anything to protect you.
Rule 41 gives the FBI permission to hack computers anywhere
Online privacy is eroding fast.
On November 30th 2016, the Supreme Court approved a change to Rule 41, the laws of search and seizure.
Until now, the FBI could only hack and investigate computers within the district where the search warrant was issued. Just like in a physical investigation, where if you want to search a house in New York you can’t do it with a warrant issued in California.
The idea of this is to guard against “forum shopping,” where law enforcement would seek out sympathetic judges to issue warrants even if their district had no connection to the crime.
Not so anymore. Since the rule was passed, the government can search computers across the country under a single warrant.
You might not think this is such a big deal. I’m a good, law-abiding citizen and I’m not doing anything illegal online, so why would the FBI investigate me? Isn’t it good that they can catch more criminals?
However, this new law could mean that innocent users will unknowingly become part of an investigation. Rule 41 authorizes hacking computers that are part of a botnet, so if yours is in one then it could be subjected to an FBI search through no fault of your own.
Civil liberties groups are warning of the dangers of this change. Rule 41 contains very few restrictions or limitations. It violates the 4th Amendment, renews the risk of forum shopping, and potentially affects any device in the world – it might even violate international law.
The way this law was passed shows that when it comes to electronic investigations, the FBI is just making up the rules as they go along. The government is finding ways to expand its surveillance and since their hacking abilities have passed the point where traditional laws apply, there’s very little limit on how far they might go.
Minnesota judge signs off on massive, unconstitutional data grab
Earlier this year, a man with a fake passport tried to solicit a $28,500 wire transfer from a bank. The police, trying to find the real owner of the passport and believing that the perpetrator lived in Edina, Minnesota, asked for a warrant.
This warrant allowed them to demand the Google data of anyone who had searched for the fraud victim’s name in the entire city (or potentially anywhere)… and the judge granted it.
Google was requested to provide the names, email addresses, social security numbers, payment information, account data and IP addresses of anyone who had searched for four different variations of the victim’s name.
It’s obvious that a lot of innocent people would get caught up in this and have their highly personal data exposed to the police.
Google rejected the subpoena at first but as of March, investigators were still fighting for the information.
Google wants to follow you around in real time
And just two weeks ago, the world’s largest search engine and data collector, always toeing the line of user privacy violation, took another little step over it.
Google Maps has now introduced real time location sharing. You can now allow selected contacts to follow you for anywhere from 15 minutes to three days. It’s a great way for you to meet up with people, organize hang-outs or prove that you’re stuck in traffic and it’s really terrible.
It’s also a great way to keep people constantly on Google Maps and checking for updates. And it will give Google an unprecedented goldmine of extremely personal, real-time data about its users.
Google emphasizes the convenience and social aspect of the new feature, but it’s clearly meant to open up a new frontier in targeted marketing.
According to Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business who specializes in entrepreneurship and strategy: “Mapping, very granular mapping, could actually be a bigger source for ad revenue than search. We go places all the time – we don’t search all the time.
So now you can sign up and get ads that are creepily following not just where you go on the internet but where you go in real life.
It’s a scary time to be on the internet. Privacy has never been under greater threat, from governments, hackers, marketers and the online services we use.
However, there are still ways to protect your privacy. Using a VPN (virtual private network), private search engines and getting off the Google/Yahoo/Bing ecosystem in general are the best ways to start.