Online privacy is becoming more important to people than ever before. In part, this has to do with scandals involving large online companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. People are surprised to learn how much information these companies and others like them are gathering about them online. They are even more surprised when the personal information gathered is leaked or sold to others.
While it’s understandable that people are concerned about companies like Google or Facebook, one should not overlook the data that is being gathered by their ISP. Your Internet service provider has access to just about everything that you do online. And, in most cases, they have the right to sell your information to advertisers.
The scary thing is that it is often impossible to escape their grip. ISPs handle just about every single Internet connection you make. Depending on where you are located geographically, you have little to no choice about the ISP you will use. When looking for local ISP providers it’s important to read additional information about each ISPs data sharing policy and guidelines. This can generally be found on disclaimer pages before signing up.
Surprisingly, ISPs do not receive a lot of public scrutiny. However, they have the ability to collect a massive amount of data about you. Thankfully, there are some steps that you can take to protect your privacy.
What Type of Information Could Your ISP Collect?
The answer to this question is going to vary based on the country where you live. In authoritative countries an ISP may be used by the government to censor the Internet or even shut down the Internet completely at the government’s behest.
In more democratic countries like the United States, an ISP can legally sell their clients private browsing history as long as they make the data anonymous. Some ISPs are allowing their customers to opt out of this form of data collection.
ISPs have a poor track record when it comes to protecting and respecting their user’s privacy. Some ISPs have created tools designed to monitor user’s online activity, even if the user takes steps to prevent said monitoring. Other ISPs have argued that privacy is a premium right. They have tried to charge users extra money if they want online privacy. In some parts of the United States, local and state governments are attempting to protect user’s privacy by giving them the right to opt out of having their personal data collected.
What Measures Can Users Take to Protect Their Data?
Since in most cases Internet users are forced to use an ISP, some may wonder what they can do to protect their privacy. The following are some options.
HTTPS is a form of encryption that will minimize the amount of activity an ISP can see on a particular page. However, it’s worth pointing out that HTTPS is not going to encrypt the server name or DNS queries. This means that your ISP is going to be able to monitor what websites you are visiting.
Use a VPN
Use a VPN to protect your privacy. VPNs are useful if they are used correctly. If used incorrectly, VPNs can create their own privacy risk.
If you opt to use a VPN, you want to guarantee that your Internet traffic goes through the VPN provider server before it reaches your ISP. Your ISP will know that you are connecting to a VPN. But they will have no idea what pages you are connecting to.
It is important that you choose a VPN that is reputable. Why? Because you are shifting your trust from your ISP to your VPN. It is counterproductive to pay for a VPN service only to have the VPN service monitor, store, or even sell your private data.
A good VPN is going to cost money. If it’s dirt cheap or free, you can all but assume that the VPN is selling your history to others. Newer VPNs without a reliable history should be viewed with skepticism. Avoid VPNs that do not use encryption or VPNs that use encryption but have a shared password for all users. Check whether or not the VPN you are using leaks your DNS queries to your ISP. If they do, the service they offer is worthless from a protection standpoint.
Use Tor Services
If you want to prevent your ISP from spying on you, a Tor browser may offer you the best protection. If you use a Tor browser, your ISP will know that you are connecting to the Tor network, but they will have no idea what your end destination website is.
In the same way that a VPN can spy on you, a Tor browser can monitor your ultimate destination. Also, some websites might not work with a Tor browser. Additionally, using a Tor browser successfully may require you to alter the way that you search online.
Will Clearing My Search History Prevent My ISP from Spying on Me?
When you search online, you create a browsing history in the form of cached data and cookies. If you don’t want other people using the same devices you use to see what you are doing, you can automatically set up your browser to erase your data whenever you close the browser.
But this does not offer true privacy. All you are doing is getting rid of the file references from your directories. Your operating system will still have this data. Additionally, your IP address can still be collected while you are browsing. This means that your ISP, third parties, or even the government can track what you have searched, where you visited, and what you have downloaded.
The proceeding were tips designed to help you protect your data from your ISP. If you follow these tips, you will be able to stay undercover and not worry about monitoring when you connect to the Internet. How do you feel about the way your ISP is using your private data? Tell us about it in the comments section below.