NordVPN, a Virtual Network Service provider, has seen an increase of 100% in its users from Australia.
Tim Singleton Norton, a privacy advocate with Digital Rights Watch, said digital rights advocates who campaigned heavily against the laws were calling 13 April "get a VPN day. “It is probably one of the best ways to try and get around the idea of your internet provider providing all of the metadata engagement that you do online to your government," he said.
Marty P. Kamden, chief marketing officer of NordVPN, obviously agrees saying, “It is common to turn to VPNs when anti-privacy laws are passed. Collecting metadata undermines Australians’ privacy – and the benefits of data collection are still not clear. Any kind of data retention is known to attract hackers, lured by huge amounts of personal data stored in one place. A VPN protects people’s privacy online through encrypting data and routing it through a secure tunnel.”
A VPN sits in between you and your ISP using the VPN's address, so all it sees is the VPN and nothing else. VPN users need to trade off any speed issues and think about what sorts of browsing and email contents need to be protected. In reality, it is easier to protect everything.
Kamden says it is not just the government that is collecting metadata/ He says there are three major ways of it is being collected.
- Mandatory Data Retention – the ISP role
Australian ISPs are now collecting and retaining Internet users’ metadata, which includes people’s names, addresses, phone numbers, and so on. Tracking the location of a phone every time it connects to the Internet is enough to establish where the owner of the phone lives and works. Personal data of millions of Australians is kept in vast, not necessarily well-encrypted databases, posing a major security and privacy threat in case of a data breach. Similar laws have been adopted in multiple countries. However, based on their experience, metadata cannot effectively help in fighting crime.
- Google, Facebook, and other giant tech companies
Data has recently become the most valuable commodity in the world, and it stays in the hands of a few giants, namely Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. Facebook knows who are user’s friends, which interactions they did, which sites they visited, what they bought, and much more. Google collects a user’s name, email address, telephone number and credit card (if entered). It also uses different types of cookies to track one’s interaction with other websites, device used, search queries and so on. UK’s Conservative Party has announced that it plans to rein in the power of private companies – such as Facebook and Google – and to give more power to the government. But is it a better alternative? Doubtfully. The proposal could force Facebook and Google to decide which material should be censored or face heavy fines - thus the main content censors will be Facebook and Google themselves.
Advertisers track Internet users every time they go online. Moreover, advertisers use cross-device tracking, which raises additional privacy and security risks. Through cross-device tracking, ad companies and publishers build a consumer’s profile based on their activity throughout digital devices. Basically, most Internet users are tracked from the moment they wake up till they go to sleep through the variety of devices and physical locations revealed by their GPS co-ordinates.
What can you do?
When faced with surveillance by the government, ISPs, large companies, and advertisers, people still have some power in their own hands to protect their privacy.
Kamden says, “Internet users should regularly delete cookies, use privacy-oriented browser plugins, install anti-virus and anti-tracking software, and make sure not to enter personal passcodes and credit card information when using open Wi-Fi networks. The best-known method to keep your information private and encrypted from ISPs is a VPN.”