President Trump signed a bill on Monday, May 1 repealing internet privacy rules passed last year by former President Obama’s team at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  How does this affect you?

The rules were adopted last year, but not taken effect.  The President’s signature comes a few days after the Senate and House barely passed a measure to stop the new rules.  The FCC regulations would have required broadband companies to get permission from their customers in order to use their browsing history, apps, geolocation, financial and medical information — to create targeted advertisements.

WHY WE LIKE THOSE RULES:  Those FCC regulations were the strictest ever been imposed to protect consumer online privacy.  We agree there is value to have more privacy as we work online.  Our data should be our data, unless we agree to release it.

WHY WE NEED DIFFERENT RULES:  The rules Congress and the President killed only applied to broadband and wireless providers.  Other internet companies like Google and Facebook, freely track this data and flood you with advertisements based on it.

NOTE:  Google, Facebook, and other internet companies do not ASK you for permission to use your sensitive data.  They DEMAND it.  In essence, you can accept their terms or not use their product.

Is it just us, or does that fail Google’s original motto of corporate conduct, “Don’t be evil?”  (They dropped this in 2015 when forming their Alphabet startup.)  Was it only for other people?  Or does their forcing us to give up our data violate their current motto, “Do the right thing?”

You make the call.

Democrats complain Republicans do not care about internet privacy.  Republicans, on the other hand, seem to want no restrictions.  (This makes no sense to us either.)  It seems both parties are playing to big donors.

Why not just have the same standards for all?

But back to you…  How does the repeal of this bill affect you?

We suggest not at all.  The reason is because if you use Google, Facebook, etc. and they are tracking your data even if your internet provider is not.

Some people like the fact advertisements change in their browser, on Facebook, or other sites due to the website pages they view online.  Others hate it.  For instance, if you are browsing the internet for one of your children, a friend, or client, the ads on subsequent webpages are selected based on searches you did for others.  This can go on for months.  Can you stop them from tracking you?  Supposedly you can, IF you have an account.

If you just use Google’s Chrome browser without a Google account, then in Settings there is a Do Not Track option.  However, it has a big disclaimer:

Enabling “Do Not Track” means that a request will be included with your browsing traffic. Any effect depends on whether a website responds to the request, and how the request is interpreted. For example, some websites may respond to this request by showing you ads that aren’t based on other websites you’ve visited. Many websites will still collect and use your browsing data – for example to improve security, to provide content, services, ads and recommendations on their websites, and to generate reporting statistics.

This article explains how to turn-off tracking in Google if you have a Google account.  Our disappointment is we would like to see tracking as a universal opt-in, not something you have to opt-out of.   If you want more privacy online, there are some options.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW

First, realize that deleting your browser history does not help.  It is not only time consuming, but impractical.  It may save you from the prying eyes of people in your I.T. department or others who live with you, but erasing your online activities does nothing to hide your tracks from your ISP, Google, Facebook, etc. from doing whatever they want with your data.

Second, your other options are what we recommended in our last newsletter.  Here they are again:

If you are a business, then you need to have a proactive I.T. managed service provider responsible for protecting your network and systems.  They should also have security awareness training available for your employees, volunteers, consultants, and others.

We are a reputable, 15-year-old Maryland & DC Beltway team of computer experts providing IT security and managed services.  We have been helping business and nonprofit clients stop cyber hackers in their digital tracks for over a decade.

Here are some of the key areas where we help Clients implement technology and train their people better public Wi-Fi habits.

Avoid Free Anti-Virus Software

Sensitive data about your personal life and career reside on your computer and possibly mobile devices such as tablets and phones.  Free antivirus software has fewer capabilities than robust antivirus and firewall solutions sold by reputable providers.  The cost of high-quality protection is microscopic compared to the financial loss, time waste, and stress of identity theft, ransomware, and other cybercriminal-induced pain.

Keep Software Updated

At home or work always make certain your software has the latest updates.  A lot of the effort and coding in updates these days involves making certain your software has the best protection against cybercriminals.  Do NOT update your software on public Wi-Fi.

Confirm the Real Network

Ask an employee for the specific name of the retail store’s Wi-Fi network and the password.  Only use networks where you are 110 percent confident it is real.  For instance, “Free Airport WiFi” may be a trap set by hackers and thieves.

Turn-off Sharing

Part of the process to access the public Wi-Fi network involves confirming whether you want to be sharing and seen on the network, or you want to be hidden.  Turn off sharing.  Do not be seen.  Allowing sharing may enable evil people to access your system.

This may be a two-step process:  First, you may need to go into the settings of your system to turn-off File Sharing.  Second, as part of the public Wi-Fi network connection you may be asked if you want to be seen, or share while using the network.  Always say “no” / be hidden.

Use a VPN

A VPN is a virtual private network.  Private WiFi did a recent survey where 79 percent of respondents do not use a VPN, even though they should.  The major benefit of a personal VPN is that it encrypts your data so even if any of your data gets into the hands of nefarious characters they cannot use it.  There are a variety of VPN options available at a reasonable cost.  Again, we advise against a free version.  Get real protection, or don’t.

Avoid Sensitive Information

Do not access any online account unless you absolutely have to, and if you do, only accounts with two factor authentication.

If you are not familiar with two factor authentication, it is a two-step process to confirm who you are rather than simply entering your password (a one step process).  Typically the second step is you either are texted a code, which when you see it on your phone can be entered into the website; or you are required use of tools such as Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator to access a code that you enter into the website.

Look for a Secure Connection

Check the web address of the sites you are visiting, particularly if you feel you need to do some transactions, to confirm the beginning of the address is “https” rather than simply “http.”  This indicates the site has a secure, encrypted connection.

Turn It Off

Turn-off the public Wi-Fi connection on your computer or mobile device when you are done.  Do not leave a gate in your fortress open for the enemy to attack.

After you turn it off, forget the network on your system.  The process varies based on your computer or mobile device.  On a Windows system you can do this in Network Settings, which can be accessed from the network icon in the lower right of your bottom task bar.  In iOS go to Settings, select Wi-Fi, find the network, and select Forget this Network.

You can learn more in these articles:

https://www.cnet.com/news/trump-signs-bill-repealing-us-internet-privacy-rules/

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-internet-trump-idUSKBN1752PR

http://fortune.com/2017/03/29/white-house-trump-internet-privacy/

https://consumerist.com/2017/04/03/president-trump-signs-resolution-killing-internet-privacy-rules-allowing-isps-to-keep-selling-your-data/

We encourage you to support internet privacy standards that are without exemptions for big donors to political parties and government officials.  It would be a safer and less intrusive online world if everyone had to play by the same standards.

WHAT TO DO NOW

Take inventory of what technology you have in place to stop internet providers, wireless companies, and internet app providers (Google, Facebook…), plus the ever-present cyber thieves from accessing your computers, mobile devices, storage, and networks.

For a limited time you can schedule a no cost, no obligation full network security assessment that includes an assessment of each computer, mobile device, and most of your connected equipment from NRTC.

NRTC does the work so the assessment does not interrupt your schedule.

Contact NRTC by email or call (410) 925-0303 to schedule time with Marc Wishnow, one of senior consultants.  He will help you get your complimentary network security assessment scheduled quickly.