What you do online isn’t private. Your internet provider monitors your every move. But it doesn’t need to be so. Find out why you are being tracked and how to stop ISP tracking.
Everything you do online is monitored and logged by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). ISPs provide you with internet access and assign you with an IP address, so they can see pretty much everything you do online, especially if you use websites that don’t use an HTTPs connection. ISPs can see:
There are many countries in which ISPs are required by law to retain their customers' data for a certain period. This information is valuable to governments and law enforcement agencies as they say to use such data to fight terrorism and find criminals.
However, such 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. Also, 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 then becomes 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.
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 streaming videos, using P2P platforms, or choosing their competitors' content instead of theirs. These practices require them to monitor your traffic.
In some countries, P2P file sharing is illegal. Thus ISPs need to monitor their users and identify P2P connections like torrents. If so, they are obliged to send that data to copyright agencies, who then, in their accord, can target users with hefty fines or legal action.
The best way to prevent your ISP from tracking your online activities is to encrypt your internet traffic. You can do so by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN 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 ask yourself, ‘Am I not hiding my data from one monitor just to give it to another?’. You might be right if you choose a free service. Such 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.
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 all around the world, which is why it makes it difficult to track where the original traffic has come from and helping you 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 manages the servers your traffic is going 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.
Some internet 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 it does.
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.
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 are visiting, 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.
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