Korges: Keep the internet private


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using laptop

Wilson Korges

Internet privacy is yet again a subject of public discussion as a recent vote on the topic has cleared the House. The Washington Post reported that, “House Republicans voted Tuesday to repeal a set of landmark privacy protections for Web users in a sharp pivot away from the internet policies of the Obama administration. President Trump is expected to sign the measure.”

As internet privacy impacts the majority of Americans, and perhaps especially students, an overview of what this vote means is of utmost importance.

The repeal removes rules put in place by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that, as the New York Times explains“required broadband providers to receive permission before collecting data on a user’s online activities” and remove requirements to strengthen protections for this data against hacking attempts. This is of great benefit to broadband providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, which will no longer be limited in what they do with the information they gain from consumers, ranging from ascertaining locations to attaining Social Security numbers.

The removal of these requirements is intended to make these companies more equal competitors with Google and Facebook within the online advertising market. The only thing left for the removal of these rules is a presidential signature, which should be forthcoming as the Trump administration has already issued a statement in support of it.

The question remains: what is there to be done? If the removal of these rules worries you, there are steps that can be taken to better protect your privacy on the internet. Nothing is perfect, but some measures can be taken to provide better security and more peace of mind. Anything I suggest here is, to some extent, common knowledge, but hopefully will prove helpful to anyone concerned. Everything I mention here is free.

Perhaps the most well-known of the safeguards I can suggest is Tor, a browser created by the Tor Project that is described as a “free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.”

Tor, while not known as the fastest of browsers, and, like anything else, not completely faultless, is a remarkable tool and has been used for a variety of important causes “from activists trying to avoid government censorship or surveillance to people conducting illicit business on the so-called dark web.”

My other recommendations are Open Whisper Systems, which provides encryption for both iPhone and Android, and Orbot, an extension of the Tor Project for Android.

Open Whisper Systems, the same company that developed Signal — an already popular encryption app — allows users to send text, photo and video messages securely without Open Whisper Systems being able to read them. It also provides the same calling services for both iPhone and Android, ensuring your voice calls are protected. This should be helpful for those who often use their phones for internet use.

While my recommendations are no doubt rudimentary — I am anything but an expert, and most of my knowledge comes secondhand — I hope they will provide those interested with a sense of what they can do to protect themselves and their browsing habits, both via computers and phones. Whether this is a new interest sprouting in the wake of the recent House vote or a more general subject of concern, you should have the tools available to you to protect your privacy to the extent you wish.