If you’re most people, you just found out about the FCC’s internet privacy rules by way of their untimely demise. Thanks to the FCC’s new chief, Congress, and Donald Trump, ISPs are now free to track you like crazy and sell your data to the four directions. As a result, interest in VPNs exploded overnight.
Before the Obama-era FCC’s privacy and security safeguards could go into effect, new FCC chairman Ajit Pai readied the hearse by suspending them indefinitely as his first big act. This ensured they’d never see the light of day, even if Congress didn’t come in for the kill with their anti-privacy-rules bill. Which they did. This was immediately followed by Trump signing that bill lickety-split, ensuring no one gets any of the protections they were promised.
When the attacker is your ISP
So, as you probably know from reading headlines over the past week, ISPs are free to track you and sell your data to third parties. Less reported, yet equally disastrous to have taken away, is the part in the protections that gave consumers power to hold internet and cable providers accountable for data breaches.
Consumer security, the new FCC chief told Congress, isn’t the FCC’s area of interest anymore.
The headlines quickly went from Trump signs bill rolling back FCC privacy rules for ISPs, to “hey everyone, protect your privacy from ISPs with a VPN (Virtual Private Network).”
Using a VPN for cloaking your activity from your ISP is a practical solution — especially if you combine it with tracker-blocking browser plug-ins like uBlock Origin, because ads are trackers too.
With a VPN, the user’s internet connection travels encrypted from computer to VPN server; from there the user’s connection travels unencrypted to their final destination (a website). This way, websites only see the VPN’s IP address and not the user’s, and your ISP only sees you visiting the VPN. The ability of any attacker to spy, intercept, attack or steal information stops at the VPN. That’s why they’re essential for personal security when you use public WiFi.
Once the idea took hold that VPNs were the magic solution to ISP spying, tracking, and data sales, suddenly everyone and their dog was publishing an article about it. Lots of these articles tell you to use a VPN service with “the hallmarks of a trustworthy service” but few explain what that means, exactly.
Many of these explainery-think pieces, not surprisingly, are profit-seeking endorsements for affiliate VPN services. Not all of which are VPNs you can trust, even if they come from a trusted blog or source.
And fake VPN services rolled out in waves to cash in.