Most haven’t labored under the delusion that companies have their best interests at heart since the 50s, and in today’s highly competitive technology marketplace, it’s even more likely that companies will do whatever they can to get the edge over their competitors.
While this kind of rhetoric is often attributed to paranoiacs, the type of people who put tinfoil over their heads to protect themselves from the evil, scary 5G towers, the unfortunate reality is that we’re living in a world where our access to technology is limited and manipulated by corporations looking to make an extra buck. These limitations are not necessarily overt and come in many forms, from manufacturer restrictions on the kinds of apps you can install on their programs to internet service provider (ISP) throttling.
ISP throttling is technically illegal under net neutrality regulations and can accurately be described as when an ISP gets paid to block or slow down wi-fi access to competitor sites, putting undue restrictions on customers’ open access to the internet. Unfortunately, with the rollback of those regulations that took place back in 2016, ISP’s can now technically do this again by creating “fast lanes” for companies that pay for premier access.
With the rollback of government oversight, paying corporations will soon be freer than ever to limit your access to the internet in the service of providing preferential treatment to their services. And with the grip that such services have on governmental regulations through lobbying and the appointment of officials like Ajit Pai, it seems that consumers will be confined by these conditions for a while.
Fortunately, there are ways to operate within the system and make it work for you. Below are a couple of accessible ways to take back control of your internet access and make your devices work for you instead of the companies that designed them.
Jailbreaking Your Devices
Sometimes known as “rooting” or “cracking” a device, jailbreaking a device refers to the removal of limitations on third-party software or applications placed on devices by their manufacturers. This is most often used on devices whose manufacturers tend to be stingy with the kinds of software they allow their devices to be compatible with. Many credit one of the first successful instances of jailbreaking to users who wanted to use Android-specific apps on the first iPhones.
Many find that jailbreaking their device allows them to get their money’s worth from it. Take the Amazon Firestick, for instance, a set-top box that allows one to connect to a variety of streaming services, but primarily prioritizes Amazon. The voice search feature, which tends to be one of Firestick’s key selling points, only applies to Amazon.com. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are downloaded as separate channels and are not accessible through the voice search function.
Moreover, Amazon Firestick limits access to tons of free TV and film streaming services, subtly pointing the customer to their paid services instead. Jailbreaking your Firestick can increase your device’s potential significantly, making it every bit as functional as other set-top boxes and allowing you to steam hours of free content without giving Amazon another cent.
VPN’s: An Effective Way to Circumvent ISPs
Removing manufacturer restrictions on your devices is a good first step, but it likely won’t earn you open access to the internet, as ISPs still monitor and have the ability to impact your service every time you use their servers. Enter virtual private networks or VPNs. With VPNs, a separate, encrypted connection is created to a remote server, which is then used to connect to the internet while cloaking your IP address, making it impossible for ISPs to keep track of your activity. This makes it impossible for ISPs to limit your access to any given service or “fast track” others, giving you back the ability to use whatever services you want freely and without interference.
VPNs also add an extra layer of security, making it harder for hackers and people with malintent to track your activity across websites, and can also be used to access free content online. VPNs alter how your IP address looks to the services you use, changing your location and (in some cases) changing the content said services offer to you. Want to see a film that’s on Netflix in France but not in the US? Use a VPN, change your IP address, and get to streaming.
Protecting Yourself in the Digital Age
While it is possible, in theory, that net neutrality regulations will be resurrected, it’s best not to count on anyone other than yourself giving you the agency you need to explore the internet freely. Fortunately, these two simple methods have been shown to force corporations and ISPs to stay out of others’ internet activity, and they may just work for you as well.