It's only natural that you, or anyone else, would like to retain their privacy. However, when you are using the Internet, that can become a bit tricky. It's really easy to pick up malware or to be a victim of a phishing scam and end up with your information exposed to parties you didn't even know existed. In order to prevent this from happening, we use reliable anti-virus software, strong passwords, authentication apps, etc.
When we talk about online privacy, the issue of ISP tracking also comes up. Recently, it was voted by the US Senate that ISP tracking will no longer require user permission, which can be quite unsettling for some. Here, we will go over everything you need to know about ISP, their practice, and your privacy while browsing the Internet.
What does ISP stand for?
Let us start with the ISP term itself and explain what it means. ISP stands for Internet Service Provider, and much like its name suggests, these are the companies that enable you to have access to the Internet. There are various forms of ISP companies, some are community owned, some are non-profit, some are privately owned, but a great deal of them offer similar features. In addition to internet access, ISP companies offer internet transit, web hosting, domain name registration, collocation, and usenet services.
What kind of information does ISP track?
Since ISP tracking does not require the permission of users, does that mean that they can spy on us? Well, the answer is both yes and no. First of all, ISP cannot see what kind of content we are sending if it is encrypted. However, if the connection and content are not encrypted then you may assume, as unsettling as it sounds, that your ISP will know about everything you do online. Of course, this does not mean that they are actively doing so, but the possibility is there.
Does internet service provider track my browser history and know what websites I visit?
Yes, your internet provider knows all about your browsing history and habits. They know what websites you visited when you visited them and what device you used doing so. Usually the ISPs official explanation of such tracking is for them to provide you, the end user, with a better service by configuring and expanding their networks based on your needs.
Does my internet service provider keep my history?
In addition to monitoring your activity, the ISP can keep records of your internet history. It is also worth mentioning that illegal use of ISPs network is commonly a violation of ISP terms of agreement, which means you are likely to get your account suspended. Thus, monitoring is also a measure of checking whether users adhere to the terms of the contract.
How long does ISP keep my data for?
This depends on the ISP itself and on the laws of your country. Some ISP keep history for only a few months, while others may be required to keep everything they track for several years.
What does the internet provider do with my data?
Well, since ISP can track your online activity, they can use the information to deduce your political views, sexual orientation, and generally the content you are interested in. As mentioned, this is not done for the purpose of spying on anyone, but there are some things they can do which seems unfair.
Can internet provider sell or share my data?
ISP companies can sell your web history to advertising agencies. By getting your browsing history, they can create a more personalized campaign and alter your online experience. In other words, if you are browsing the web, and constantly see very targeted ads popping up, it means that ISP may have been selling your web history.
Can the government see what I do online?
The answer to this question is quite apparent - the government can access and go over your web history. Depending on how long the ISP is obliged to keep it, they can go over every website you have visited for the past several months or even years. Also, thanks to Internet connection records (ICR), they can see what you were browsing for on your smartphone as well.
The bills that were passed allow the government to see what kind of sites you visited and if your online activity is suspicious. Even if you start googling sinister queries just for fun they could notice that and you might get into trouble for no reason.
Can I use Chrome incognito mode to stay anonymous?
If you thought that you can outsmart your ISP and the government by simply using incognito mode in Chrome, then you are wrong. The incognito mode only allows you to browse the web without the history being stored on your own device. Even if you use Chrome's incognito mode, the ISP can still store your web history data, and the government will most likely have access to it.
How to block ISP from tracking me?
If what you have read so far has made you uncomfortable, then you will be glad to hear that there are ways to go around these issues. In fact, there are 3 ways you can keep your online history hidden from ISP companies, and it's also quite easy to implement. Here, we will go over these solutions so that you can pick the one that suits you the most.
1. Browse securely with HTTPS
If the website can be browsed under HTTPS, then you should go for that solution, as it will allow you to view website's content without the ISP knowing. HTTP stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and it is a primary technology protocol that enables us to browse the web and link content. In short, the technology is used to establish a communication between the web user and web server. It is the backbone of the World Wide Web, since it is a vast multi-input and multi-functioning system, and links have to rely on it if they are to function properly.
So, what does HTTPS stand for? Well it still means Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, but the S at the end denotes a Secure Socket Layer (SSL). So, it is a slightly different type of protocol that was developed to ensure secure transactions. SSL is a secure encryption used by the web protocol that enables safe transmission of data, and if you recall, we have mentioned how ISP can only view your web activity as long as it isn't encrypted.
HTTPS is highly utilized by renown eCommerce websites or online stores, like eBay or Amazon. This is what makes online shopping safe and secure, because ISP (or anyone else for that matter) cannot see the numbers you use when providing your credit card information. To sum up, when you browse the web, always be on the lookout for HTTPS, as it denotes a safe browsing session.
2. Browse anonymously with Tor
It is important to remember that HTTPS is simply providing an encryption for your activity, and doesn't completely anonymize it. However, Tor can help you hide your tracks, and bolster the security around your browsing history. By using Tor, you can go from one site to another without leaving any trace, because it can funnel your traffic through different virtual tunnels, thus making it nearly impossible to track you. Here is a detailed overview on how Tor functions precisely, but here we will provide you with a shorter, or an in-a-nutshell explanation.
Tor is comprised of a series of networks and virtual tunnels which enable its users to browse the web in a safe fashion. Furthermore, it is a neat tool for developers, as it allows them to create superior communication software with built-in privacy features. Tor has become a foundation for countless apps that are marketed to the users as secure communication tools which are used for sharing information and communicating without third parties spying on them.
Users rely on Tor to prevent websites from tracking them or their family, as well as to establish a connection with instant messaging services and news sites. Additionally, Tor lets its users post on websites without sharing their location, and thus forums or chat rooms, or platforms where socially sensitive topics are the main point of discussion, can be functional. Tor has made it possible for people who were survivors, victims of abuse or rape, and people with illness, to share online chat rooms, knowing there is no one eavesdropping.
3. Use a VPN
Lastly, in order to prevent ISPs from obtaining your web history, you can use a VPN or a Virtual Private Network. By using a VPN, you can create a secure connection between your device (tablet, PC, Laptop, smartphone) and a termination point.
To put it bluntly, you have a private network that exists inside the public internet network, and because of this, people very often refer to a VPN connection as a tunnel. VPN will encrypt all of your web data locally, and send it through a tunnel all the way to your termination point. Once the data reaches its destination, it is decrypted and then forwarded back to you.
VPN is commonly utilized by companies that store sensitive data online, since it allows for that data to be accessed remotely, under secure conditions. Generally, it is deemed as the best practice to keep your data disconnected from the public server, and to basically tunnel all the way to it using VPN encryption.
Considering how there are different VPN providers, we will do a quick overview of a few providers just to give you some perspective before opting for your VPN solution. Recently, VPN has become quite popular and this popularity is gradually increasing, as more users become aware of what internet service providers are capable of. There are numerous providers but not all of them are equally reliable, and you should choose carefully.
IPVanish is a quite renowned and reliable VPN provider and some even rank it as the number one VPN solution. They have an easy to use software that works fast and is appreciated worldwide for the discretion it provides for users. They have over 60 servers all across the world and are fully capable of protecting your sensitive data, or giving you the chance to enjoy your favorite shows on networks like Netflix, for example, by masking your location and allowing you to choose from the ones available.
IPVanish has support for Windows, iOS, and Android, and if you are not pleased with their service, they will give you your money back, as long as you request it within 7 days. Their monthly package is $10, but an annual subscription will cost you $6,49 per month.
PureVPN is also extremely reliable and capable of providing its users with an incredible and state-of-the-art encryption. PureVPN has over 140 servers distributed among different countries and it is designed to outperform ISP in terms of speed. It can deliver a 256-bit data encryption, without involving any third parties.
Furthermore, PureVPN allows you to connect 5 different devices at once and is currently offering a discount on their 2 years package. You can subscribe for 2 years and pay only $2,95 per month, or you can purchase a monthly package to try their service for a month, at a price of $10.
ExpressVPN is a provider with a customer-support centric business model, which means they are available 24/7. Additionally, you can try their service for a whole month, and if you are not satisfied with the results, you can ask for your money back, which really reflects how much they trust their product.
They are also one of the leading providers in the industry, and one of the most reliable VPN service in Britain. With their flawless encryption and amazing speed, you can have a great time while browsing the web, without anyone spying on your web activities. Their packages are slightly more expensive than the other two providers we mentioned. $12.95 for a single month, $8.32 per month for annual subscriptions and $9,99 per month for a six-month subscription.
Well, this roughly covers it. This is how ISP operates, what they can do with your web history, and how you can protect your web activities. Hopefully, it helps you learn how to protect your privacy online and stay safe and secure.