What data do ISPs track?
Everything you do online is monitored and logged by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Internet service providers provide you with internet access and assign you with an IP address. This means they can see a lot of your personal data and internet traffic, especially if you use websites that don’t use HTTPs.
ISP monitoring can cover:
- Unencrypted email conversations, websites, online searches and files you download, including those from P2P platforms;
- Connection times and dates;
- Your physical location and geo-location when using a mobile device;
- Social media data;
Why is your ISP tracking you?
1. Data retention
Most ISP’s are required by law to retain their customers’ data and track their online activity for a certain period. This information is valuable to governments and law enforcement agencies that claim to use this data to fight terrorism and find criminals.
However, this tracking also means that journalists or whistleblowers that want to reveal sensitive information have little to no chance to stay anonymous without the right security tools. Revelations made by Edward Snowden have shown that ISP tracking can be used as a tool for mass surveillance, where millions of ordinary people are monitored for no good reason.
ISPs can collect a lot of information about you, which is extremely valuable to advertisers. In some countries, including the US, it’s legal for ISPs to sell this data to advertisers who then analyze your browsing habits to create targeted advertising campaigns.
3. Bandwidth throttling
Some ISPs are also sneaky enough to offer you “unlimited plans” but then slow down your speeds. This phenomenon is called bandwidth throttling. While occasionally necessary, many ISPs throttle to boost profits at the expense of service quality. For example, they might throttle your connection to certain websites because you are playing online games or choosing their competitors’ content instead of theirs. These practices require them to monitor your traffic.
4. P2P monitoring
In some countries, P2P file sharing is illegal. ISPs may be required to monitor their users and identify P2P connections like torrents. If they do, they may also be obligated to send that data to copyright agencies that can punish users with hefty fines or legal action.
How to stop ISP tracking
1. Use a VPN
Does a VPN hide your activity from your ISP? The short answer is yes: a VPN hides the details of your browsing habits from whatever company provides your internet connection. The best way to prevent your ISP from tracking your online activities and personal information is to encrypt your internet traffic. You can do so by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
A virtual private network service routes your traffic via a VPN server, encrypts it, and changes your real IP address making your browsing activity private. When using a VPN connection, your ISP knows that you’re using it but they can’t see what you’re doing.
However, you might be asking yourself, “Am I hiding my data from one monitor just to give it to another?”. You could be right if you choose a free service.
Free VPNs have to make money somehow, and some of them do so by tracking you and selling your data to advertisers. That’s why you should look for a premium VPN that has a no-logs policy, meaning that they do not monitor or store data about what you do online and can’t give ISPs or governments anything.
Avoid ISP tracking and enhance your privacy with a VPN.
2. Use Tor
Tor, also known as onion routing, also encrypts and anonymizes your traffic. Tor routes your traffic through multiple servers (also called nodes) that are managed by volunteers. Tor’s servers are located all around the world, which makes it difficult to track where your traffic came from and helps hide it from your ISP.
However, Tor isn’t the best solution. It only works for browsing. It doesn’t protect other software or files you download, nor can it protect you on other devices. Also, you can never be sure who’s managing the servers your traffic travels through. What if they belong to a hacker or an ISP or government agency? Lastly, because your traffic goes through so many nodes, it can significantly slow down your connection. You can find out more about the main differences Tor and VPN on our blog.
3. Use a proxy
Some internet users might choose to route their traffic through a proxy. Proxy servers can help you access geo-restricted websites and hide your browsing activity from the ISP, but that’s all they do.
Also, proxies don’t encrypt your traffic, leaving you vulnerable to other attacks and forms of monitoring. Similarly to Tor, you also can’t be sure who those proxy servers belong to. You can read more about the difference between using a VPN and a proxy in our blog post.
4. Use HTTPS
The least you can do to protect your privacy is to limit your browsing to HTTPS websites only. Websites that have HTTPS in their URL are encrypted, and so protects your data from the ISP.
However, HTTPS doesn’t make you completely anonymous. ISPs won’t know exactly what you are doing, but they can still see the websites you visit, how much data you download, and the exact connection times. If you really want to improve your security and keep your browsing habits to yourself, you should opt for a combination of HTTPS and a VPN.
Can an ISP block a VPN?
Yes, an ISP can block a VPN by blocking IP addresses associated with a certain VPN provider or disabling communication ports. If you’re unable to connect to the internet when using a VPN, your ISP might be restricting the access. You can solve this problem by switching to a different server, port, or protocol.
Check out our short video on this below:
We also recommend trying NordVPN’s obfuscated servers, which are designed to bypass heavy restrictions. This is especially helpful when connecting from countries known for internet censorship. With thousands of VPN servers scattered around the world, it would be a tough task to block all of them.
Stay secure and private with NordVPN. Try it now with a 30-day money-back guarantee.