What are the consequences of not using a VPN you wonder? Here’s six. And the first one could really do long-lasting damage to your life.
Recently it has been reported that President Trump and his ilk have liberated your internet usage history from the data centers of your friendly neighborhood internet service provider, and allowed the latter to sell your data to anyone who wants to see it without your permission.
While it’s no secret that companies like Google have been reading your email and other personal data for the last decade or so and selling what they find to advertisers –and Obama, too, has had his hand in your honey-pot –now this controversial man, love him or hate him, has blown everything to hell (worse than Google ever did).
There are no clear rules or limitations of what data can be sold, so it’s safe to assume that data now available for sale includes all media consumed, mobile device in-app usage, internet history, and even data sent back and forth via the internet of things if it isn’t encrypted.
The use of this data has greater implications than most media outlets are talking about; it will complete an already clear picture of our psyche and continue the bridge to actual mind control –and I’m not being facetious.
“Psyops” have been around for decades, with technology by Cambridge Analytica leading the charge. What we’re looking at is worse than Orwell predicted.
“Data-Driven Behavior Change”
“The behavioral techniques that are being employed by governments and private corporations do not appeal to our reason; they do not seek to persuade us consciously with information and argument. Rather, these techniques change behavior by appealing to our nonrational motivations, our emotional triggers and unconscious biases. If psychologists could possess a systematic understanding of these nonrational motivations they would have the power to influence the smallest aspects of our lives and the largest aspects of our societies.” (Source)
“These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says Kosinski.” (Source)
Worth note is that Cambridge Analytica is the same company that helped Trump win the 2016 US Presidential Election, and you can bet they’re going to be first in line for the new data culled by ISPs –advertisers are the least of your worries.
With the recent deregulation of the data collected by ISPs, one can wonder if that was an underlying motivation for Cambridge Analytica assisting Trump to Presidential victory. And the big money behind Trump is also the big money behind Breitbart, and one of the minds behind Cambridge Analytica.
You can learn more about big data and behavioral sciences by reading the following related articles;
- Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media
- Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind
As far as we know VPNs still work as long as the company website you’re using doesn’t sell your usage data (ie. what you do on their site, what you type as you type it –whether you publish it or not, with AJAX programming –technology that Google’s Gmail and Facebook use).
It is unclear at this point if it’s just http traffic, or if data will be available for sale retroactively to before the US administration removed privacy rules. All we know is the FCC and FTC rules that were in place no longer exist (along with the consequences of violating your privacy). And it doesn’t really matter, most people don’t even know (or care) if their apps are encrypted, anyway.
Now this is all theory from here on in –but this ruling has the potential to make the Ashley Madison hack look like tripping over an uneven sidewalk by comparison.
Why the Post-Trump Internet is Beyond Creepy
- Big Advertising will be first in line, but so will data scientists and entities from contracted private subsidiaries of governments around the world, hired private investigators, lenders, insurance companies, lawyers, unions, prospective employers, and anyone else who wants to see if you’ve been keeping your nose clean. Why would advertisers have all the fun?
Equally chilling is that this could also mean the return of the “social credit score” that was shelved just last year –a strategy China is embracing.
It goes beyond wanting to sell you things, it’s about making you more of a commodity than you were ever prepared for. Not to say this didn’t already happen, but now it’s legal.Your internet history, if not encrypted, could mess with other aspects of your life.
Websites you visit during litigation, investigation, or insurance claim proceedings for a work injury could be used against you. Anyone that’s ever filed for disability or tried to start a union knows respective companies are watching your social profiles –and now they’ll have your browsing history, too.
- It goes beyond borders; anyone tapping into websites or social media portals in the United States without a VPN or https connection will also be affected. This is because internet engagements into America come out on the other side via an American ISP. Events like the Arab Spring could be quashed before they ever gain traction by an unruly dictator.
- You need to worry about more than just a singular ISP being hacked and your data leaked –you need to be wary of how your data is stored at any of the few thousand companies that purchase it.
- The sky is the limit; what will be available in terms of business-to consumer data marketplaces before the year is out is anyone’s guess. What would a subscription plan cost? $20 per month for unlimited civilian searches of what Aunt Faye has been reading on Buzzfeed?
The companies behind Spokeo, Pipil, or Virtual Gumshoe are already used for nefarious purposes like doxing, it isn’t a stretch to imagine similar marketplaces will be created to make your web browsing histories publicly accessible for a price. And it won’t be “the highest bidder” –that’s just hyperbole. It’ll be an ex-boyfriend, an employer, or your students.
- Most of the internet businesses (read: social media) that the entire planet uses regularly also have an ISP division –namely Facebook, Google, and AOL (yes, people still use AOL). All based in America, all ISPs, and all possess a social network. With their greater visibility to data, can they sell that too? It would be worth more, that’s for sure. End-to-end encryption is worthless if the other end is selling your data.
- With all this data flying around, how will it be used by organizations in other countries? Would countries like Thailand want to look back retroactively to see if you ever insulted or defamed a royal or visited unencrypted sites they deem inappropriate? What about Thais living or traveling abroad, outside of the bubble.
Maybe a citizen of the developing world waited until they were off the soil tied to their passport, but would that matter to their government? Do we care that citizens in the developing world use US-based websites, too? What would their governments do to them if they didn’t like what they find?
Two Classes of Netizen
Today it is more important to consider if giving your data to an American company is worth the risk (Google for reasons above), and equally important to find a great VPN service.
This law (or lawlessness, depending who you ask) has created two classes of netizen; those who use a VPN, and those who don’t. It’s hard to understand the cost-benefit analysis of paying for a monthly VPN service today when you don’t fully comprehend what tomorrow holds –whether in your life, or on the political landscape in terms of privacy.
“I’ve never been negatively affected by not using a VPN” is easy to say when you don’t actually know how your data is being used today, let alone tomorrow. How old are you? Are today’s struggles the same as tomorrow’s? Chances are the over-thirties version of you will thank you for thinking ahead.
You’ve heard this your whole life, but this is that signal you’ve been waiting for to stop using the internet like a toy. Now it’s like the Eye of Sauron –and that eye belongs to Trump. Who will it belong to tomorrow? You can delete a post in one place now, but can you do it easily when it’s syndicated and sold later this week?
To remedy this issue of privacy for myself I’ve been experimenting with different VPN services and settled on Private Internet Access (PIA).
These four had the best value, and were recommended to me by numerous peers in the digital nomad community:
- Private Internet Access
- Speedify (also a network bridge that merges multiple connections for faster speed)
- Hide My Ass
Browser-Only VPN Solutions
These solutions are for broke people, because they don’t cost a thing. ZenMate has a free option, and Opera is a great browser.
- Opera Browser (free VPN service, ad blocker in Privacy Settings)
- ZenMate (browser plugin, all other browsers)
All things considered, it’s time to start thinking about using a VPN. This is only the tip of the iceberg, this we all know –we feel it. But can we afford to wait until bad things start to happen to ourselves personally to prove it?
Related: Quincy Larson from FreeCodeCamp wrote a really great article called “How to encrypt your entire life in less than an hour”.
Thoughts? Leave a comment below.