This past week, lots of clients in Lawrence have asked DoctorDave Computer Repair about the privacy of their internet connection. They’re asking if they should get a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or another method of protection. Our short answer is “not much has changed”, but we’re always for privacy.
When you cut through the ad-selling media hype (ironic!), these changes are all about ads. Right now, companies like Facebook and Google give you free stuff. In exchange for that free stuff, you see ads paid for by advertisers. That’s their business model.
I’m not ashamed to say we benefit from that model. We sell ads on both Facebook and Google. Those companies let us hyper-target our ads. We’re not advertising computer repair to the world – just Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City. We can go so far as advertising to older clients, with Macs, who went to KU, and probably voted for a particular candidate. Anything you search for or click on becomes part of your ad profile. As a business owner, I prefer that model over placing an ad in a newspaper or a billboard that gets seen by people we’re not interested in helping with their computers.
Thus, on that level, it seems weird that Google as a search engine company can sell targeted ads but Google as an Internet Service Provider can’t. Amazon can suggest products based on your browsing history, but AT&T can’t? It’s the same browser and same computer.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re huge advocates of privacy. We’d gladly place a billboard on 23rd street saying “Call us for Lawrence computer repair” to advertise our services instead of targeted ads. However, that’s not the way the world works right now. I’d love to see privacy protections put in place and even sharper restrictions against tracking and advertising. We take the privacy of our client information seriously here.
So back to the question..should you worry? I’d say you shouldn’t be any more worried today than you were before October of 2016 when these rules were first adopted. If you’re concerned about your privacy, the first thing to do is to stop giving companies like Facebook and Google information about you. If you use a VPN to get to Facebook, you’re not doing much more for your privacy. VPNs can also cause glitches and slow downs in your browsing experience.
We’ll set up a VPN for you, and we’ve already started doing more of these for clients. We just want you to know it’s not going to advance the ball much further for your privacy. You’re still being tracked by the websites you go to and the companies you do business with. For example, switching to DuckDuckGo for searches instead of a Google is a huge step forward for your privacy. Using a private mail server (election politics aside) keeps third parties like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft from seeing your stuff. A VPN is part of a comprehensive strategy to create a more private internet experience regardless of FCC or FTC protections. Instead of spending money with us, consider giving that money to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They lobby on behalf of internet privacy daily.