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Internet security firm Cloudflare is offering a new free service the helps keep ISPs from collecting browsing data from their users. It's a small step in the right direction.

Policy & Politics

Cloudflare 1.1.1.1 Internet Privacy Tool Is No April Fool’s Joke

Internet security firm Cloudflare is offering a new free service the helps keep ISPs from collecting browsing data from their users. It’s a small step in the right direction.

In the aftermath of the shocking revelations that came to light recently about how much data companies like Facebook and Google are storing about their customers, internet privacy has suddenly become far more important to people than it was just a month ago. Cloudflare is an internet business that specializes in online security.

internet

On April 1, it launched a new service called 1.1.1.1 that makes it impossible for ISPs to collect their customer’s browser history. The service is free and it has an added bonus for users — it can speed up your internet connection. “If you switch to 1.1.1.1, then that ledger of where you’re going online is not being kept by your ISP,” Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, tells CNET.

Here’s how it works. 1.1.1.1 lets Cloudflare manage the process of resolving requests to the Domain Name System (DNS). This is something ISPs typically do and involves matching the domain name you type into your browser with the IP address for the site you want to visit. ISPs save that data to build a browsing history for every customer.

1.1.1.1 can be used on any computers, routers, and smart phones. All that’s needed is changing the settings in your web browser or operating systems. To learn how, simply type 1.1.1.1 into your browser (or follow the link) for instructions. Why is Cloudflare doing this? Matthew Prince says the core of its business is making websites run faster. The rationale is that if things run faster on the user’s end as well, people will seek out companies that use the company’s services.

Cloudflare Won’t Collect Browser Data

Cloudflare says it will not collect user browsing data itself the way most ISP’s do. That promise is being verified by KPMG. Heidi Shey, a privacy and security expert at business analyst firm Forrester, says the Cloudflare promise is impressive. “It’s a great thing that they’re coming out of the gate and being up frontabout that,” she says, but adds, “You’re kind of taking what they’re saying at face value.” Cloudflare will need to continue being transparent by making the KPMG audit reports public so consumers can continue trusting the service.

There is more to using the internet that just the DNS process, of course. Because the internet is built on a packet switching model, there are bits and bytes of information swirling around the web that can be used to identify who is sending and receiving what. Cloudflare is working on that issue as well with a system it calls DNS over HTTPS. That tool will encrypt that extra data about your web browsing as flows across the internet.

DNS Over HTTPS

For it to be effective, creators of web browsers, operating systems, and internet devices will need to include support for DNS over HTTPS. Mozilla, the creators of Firefox, is one company considering doing just that. “Firefox is the most privacy-centric browser, and we are always looking for new technologies like DNS over HTTPS to ensure we’re at the cutting edge of speed, privacy, and making life online better,” says Selena Deckelmann, a senior director of engineering at Mozilla.

There’s a reason why this new service from Cloudflare was introduced on April 1. The date can also be written as 4/1 which is sort of like 1.1.1.1 if you think about it and have the instincts of a computer programmer.

Are you thinking this all a little too hysterical? Who cares if Facebook knows you sent a birthday greeting to your mother last year? You don’t know the half of it, my friend. Or even a millionth of it. Guardian reporter Dylan Curran downloaded every bit of data Facebook has collected on him over the past decade. The files consumed 600 megabytes, enough for 400,000 average Google Docs. Go read Curran’s full report and then come back and tell us there’s nothing here for us to be concerned about. I dare you.

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we heed his advice.

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