It’s not enough to pay your ISP for goods and services anymore – the Republican Congress has just opened the floodgates for your internet provider to monitor your traffic, aggregate your information and sell advertising against it. The exact sort of thing that is apparently a Big Brother nightmare when done by the government is pure and good free-market business when done by Comcast and Verizon and AT&T. Who complained endlessly that Facebook and Google could do it, never mind that those sites don’t have 100% of your home internet traffic flowing through them.
But then again, it’s kind of part and parcel of how things work on the Internet now. Everything has to be either paid for through advertising or through a recurring charge. Instead of 99 cents a track at the iTunes Music Store, now the play is $9.99 a month for Spotify (or some other streaming service). Instead of buying a movie, now you have your Netflix bill and your Hulu bill and your HBO Now bill. Having cut the cord, the average person then has to string together an array of paid services to make up the difference, with results that may or may not be cheaper. (Full disclosure: my mother-in-law was my guinea pig for PlayStation Vue and was ultimately unhappy with it. I’m considering giving it a shot in April or May, whenever time permits, but there are issues there as well, of which more later).
Here’s the thing: as I have said before, could Facebook (for instance) afford to sell you their service? How much would they have to charge as a recurring monthly nut to make the same amount of money from you that they get by selling your advertising information across the web? How about Google? How about most anyone in this godforsaken valley, other than Apple and Amazon? Everyone else’s ability to make money relies on either ad revenue or venture capital underwriting, and I’ll spare the rant about why we’d be better off seeing all that sweet sweet VC money spent on highways and rails instead of just subsidizing Uber rides.
The thing is, to some extent, you can route around this through the use of a trustworthy VPN. I have a VPN provider which claims it doesn’t keep logs, paid for with real money – it’s part of my Olympics-watching strategy. Now it’s running full time on my iPhone and iPad in an attempt to stave off the aggregation of individual data. Is it trustworthy? Who knows? The VPN provider is now in as good a position as any other vendor, be it my work (unlikely to engage in this) or my cell provider (highly untrustworthy but maybe they mine corporate accounts and maybe they don’t?) or my home internet provider (of which I have a choice of Baby Bell or Comcast, about like anyone else). So I guess we’ll just see whether Hotspot Shield turns out to be untrustworthy. Maybe you have to rotate providers, be it cell phone or VPN. Maybe we’re all heading to burner-world.
But here’s the point: that costs money. We are busy establishing the precedent that privacy is a paid good, that you have to shell out to keep your browsing history and personal data to yourself. For people unwilling to pay the monthly bill to keep it quiet, you will be scanned and doxxed and advertised to by anyone willing to pay, if the one willing to pay isn’t you. Another tollbooth for your ISP to get richer without doing a damned thing to provide you with goods and services – other than charging you for what you used to get free, and by rights probably ought to anyway.
Heads Ireland, tails Norway.