Congress earlier this month voted to repeal broadband privacy rules created during the Obama administration. These rules would have required ISPs to get permission from their customers for collecting and selling information, such as browsing activity. The idea behind this repeal is that these rules would put broadband providers at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with other Internet companies, such as Facebook, Google and Netflix.

Either way, this repeal isn’t a great move when it comes to the privacy rights of individuals. The Obama era rules would make it all that more difficult for ISPs to take advantage of a user’s online activities, but now, it seems that broadband providers will continue to be allowed to harvest this data with its customer’s knowing.

But, what does this broadband privacy rule repeal mean for you specifically? A lot, actually.

How does this affect you?

Well, right now, it’s not affecting you at all. Things remain the same. These rules that the Obama administration put in place were set to be put in place this year, but never actually went into effect. Congress’ vote dismantled the rules before they could go into effect.

However, this still puts the individual in a frustrating position. Broadband providers can dig into your online activities for monetary purposes without your consent whatsoever. These rules set to be put in place were meant to at least require your consent, but now there’s nothing — so we’re at the same place we were at in the first place, and possibly even worse. With this ruling, it’s quite possible that ISPs will be even more fierce about data collection on their customers.

So, to be as clear as possible, the way this affects you is that ISPs will continue to collect and sell your online habits, and they might even be more aggressive with it going forward. That said, over the next few months, you get expect to see a whole lot more targeted advertising than before.

It’s also worth noting that this doesn’t just affect PC users, but essentially any device you connect up to your ISP (or WiFi) with.

Is there anyway to stop it?

There’s really no way to “stop” ISPs from collecting data. In fact, broadband providers have been collecting data on you ever since you agreed to purchase their service. So, there really was no online privacy in the first place. There are ways that you can protect your online data, but it’s hardly a surefire solution. In fact, it’s pretty cumbersome, too.

VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, will safeguard you against the data collection of ISPs, as it masks your browsing activity from your ISP. It can even appear as if you’re browsing from a different location, too (i.e. appearing that you’re coming from, say, Russia versus the United States).

But, there’s a huge downside to VPNs, too. First of all, your VPN provider has a service provider, too. So, your VPN could be collecting and selling/giving your information to, say, its own service provider. You’ll need to find a VPN provider that has a very solid privacy policy, clearly stating that they aren’t collecting information. But, even then, you’re still only taking their word for it. Not only that, but browsing the Internet with a VPN can be very cumbersome. For example, Netflix blocks VPN users from streaming. There are plenty of other online services that don’t like you accessing them from a VPN, too. Not only that, but depending on your VPN provider and the server location, your Internet speeds can tank.

You could use Tor to browse the Internet, too. Tor does encrypt your browsing activity, but a big downside is that it’s a gateway into the Deep Web or “Dark Net,” basically areas of the Internet that aren’t indexed by search engines. Sure, a lot of that content is still fine, but there’s also some extremely dangerous areas, too.

But still, if you’re looking for anonymity, and don’t mind putting up with the cons, using VPNs and Tor will give you the anonymity you’re looking for on the Internet. ISPs will still have a lot of your browsing information from pre-VPN and Tor use, but going forward, they wouldn’t be able to collect much of your online activity when using a VPN or Tor.

There’s a bigger picture

I don’t believe it’s really worth stressing about this particular repeal, though. Broadband providers are only a small list that are collecting information from you to sell. Services we use everyday are collecting information for targeted advertising and more — Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and so on. The list could go on forever.

Sure, the ISP rule repeal is another blow to the privacy of the individual, however, I believe it’s important to recognize that data collection on this scale is much larger than just ISPs. With how connected we’ve become, it’s all around us, and there’s no concern about anyone’s privacy whatsoever.

And truth be told, there’s not much anyone can do about it.

Closing

Again, using a VPN or Tor isn’t the most practical of options, but it will safeguard a lot of the basic information ISPs are after. Unfortunately, for most people that don’t know about these tools or don’t care to use them, they’re data will continue to be collected and sold for years to come, at least until an administration comes along that knows how the Internet works in the real world.