VPNs: A Good Practice

TW: This Post Has Political Content

A Summary of the Privacy Problem

Congress has decided, for whatever reason they have chosen to represent as to why they’re acting, and frankly, none of them are too well-explained, that your Internet Service Provider can continue building a file on every site that every device on your home and work internet connection visits.

Ostensibly this is for marketing purposes – i.e., to sell those results to third parties who want to buy them in bulk – and it means that the connection that you pay for each month isn’t entirely your own.

This is, as one might imagination, a frustrating betrayal of trust, more so when you consider that we are not blessed with robust competition in most residential marketplaces, and there are few rare ISPs that can afford to stand on moral grounds against this tactic.

It used to be that you could opt out of the “super cookieUnique Identification Headers (UIDH) that companies like Verizon are already appending to your HTTP Requests.

Yeah, that’s sleazy. They are trying to make you, their customer, more visible to advertising partners based on your existing actions.

One of the late actions of the Obama Administration was to pass through the Federal Communications Commission new rules that would protect your online privacy from prying eyes of third party marketing organizations. They were set to take effect late in 2017.

Thanks to aggressive lobbying of the Congress, and an abdication of any desire for an individual right to privacy on the part of Legislative and Executive branches, these communications giants are going to take a second turn at squeezing more revenue out of their networks, and they’re going to do it to their customers without so much as a discount for being their unwilling partners in marketing.

Okay, That Sucks, Now What?

So, what’s a person to do if they want to keep their surfing habits – which in many cases contain personally identifying and possibly embarrassing information – away from their ISP’s prying eyes?

There’s an easy way to help prevent their access, and that’s to use a Virtual Private Network, or a VPN. That’s a way of sending all your outbound internet traffic securely to a third party before it passes through to the internet as a whole.

What’s that look like? Think of it this way: imagine that you want to send a secret letter to a friend. You don’t want anyone in your local post office to know that you’re sending a note to John Smith in Des Moines, Iowa, so you pack up your sealed letter to John in a letter to another friend, Betty Johnson of Dubuque, Iowa, with a note to please mail this letter for you from her local post office. The post office sees that you sent a letter to Betty, but because there are rules against opening your mail, they can’t read it. Then, Betty receives your message, posts your letter to John, and no one’s the wiser.

That’s what a VPN does. It’s a secure way to send all your traffic to a third party to act on your behalf. You can securely wrap your traffic to the Internet to a third party before it gets out to the rest of the internet.

It’s not perfect, but it at least prevents some of the skeeviest trends in local ISPs. Drawbacks to using VPNs include weird results for Location searches, a performance hit to your internet speed, and perhaps the inability to view location-specific programming.

Personally, for a recommendation, I like Cloak. It uses multiple data centers around the world to route your traffic, and while they do keep user logs of data, it’s short-lived, and their privacy policy is quite strong. It costs $99/year for unlimited data, and they have both macOS and iOS applications that make this process very easy to adapt to and that’s a good thing.

I don’t make anything from a referral to them, but I do use their product and endorse it. It’s an easy VPN to setup. Give it a try if you spend a lot of time on unencrypted Wi-Fi, or if you don’t want your ISP to have access to your surfing history.

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