Not paying attention to the information in this column may cost you money! I thought up that opening line after writing last week’s column and realizing many people probably read my take on encryption and online privacy and could not care less. In my experience, if you tell somebody that something might hit them in the pocketbook, they tend to pay more attention. One facet of online privacy may indeed cost us more money, so read on.
Last week I explained how the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) ensures the connection between your computer and a website is not being snooped. Financial institutions have used SSL for years, and now most of the major email services have implemented it to keep your correspondence private. More and more websites are implementing SSL to protect the privacy of their users.
Using SSL, you can usually be assured your communications are secure unless someone inserts another SSL certificate into your local device. Sometimes employers or universities require that all users install such an SSL certificate so the institution can see everything users do. It is arguably the company’s right to do this on company-owned computers, and if employees want to keep their personal email private, they can do their personal emailing from home. Last week I wrote that you should not permit your Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as Megacable or Telmex, to put their SSL certificate on your computer so they can see everything you do online. This is an issue that has not come up yet but may, and not because your internet provider wants to snoop.
ISPs know that much of their traffic is repetitive. For example, the ISP could note that thousands of gringos in Mexico are reading the same article on the New York Times website, and the ISP has to pay to download that same article thousands of times from New York. If the ISP caches a copy of that news article on its server in Mexico City, this provides two huge benefits: it saves cost by not repeatedly downloading that content from New York, and it delivers the content faster because it comes from Mexico City and not New York.
Using a secure SSL connection interferes with this beautiful system though. If the ISP cannot see what you are doing online, then it cannot cache any content. If it cannot cache content, the costs of doing business rise because rather than paying once for content, the ISP has to pay repeatedly. When your ISP’s costs increase, your bill will too. So the conundrum is that people want online security, but the more secure the internet, the more money it costs the ISPs to operate, and those costs will inevitably be passed to the consumer.
The ISPs are not the bad guys here; they are as much a victim of the consequences of overreaching government surveillance as the rest of us. Please try to remember that when your internet bill goes up.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.