As our technology becomes increasingly complex, and as more and more of our data is available online, it can be difficult – for the average individual – to know what parties can access your data, what parties currently store your data, what the potential harm might be of people misusing your data, and how you can stop this from happening.
Luckily, we’re here to help you with just that. So stick with us till the end, and we will teach you everything you need to know about unwanted data tracking and how you can put a stop to it.
Today, our guide will focus on ISP (internet service provider) tracking – one of the most common data tracking forms.
What Is ISP Tracking?
Most of us get access to the internet through internet service providers (ISPs). As you might’ve guessed already, ISP tracking is when your ISP stores or watches the things you do online.
This may include your browser history, your communications, and any other activity that involves you being online. If the correct protective measures are not taken promptly, you may risk being tracked by your ISP on any of your household devices (if not all).
What Data Can My ISP Track?
To give you a better sense of what kinds of data your internet service provider can track, check out the list we’ve made below – it includes some of the most important categories of data your ISP records.
Your ISP can access all of this information because all the traffic you send or receive over the internet is mediated through your ISP servers. These servers log the activity performed through them and note the devices that issue these requests.
Hence, they can store information about what you do over the internet. It gets worse for those who subscribe to special ISP services like email. This is because the more private data you provide your ISP, the more they will be able to track you.
Here is a list of some of the most sensitive pieces of your personal data that your ISPs probably have access to:
- Your browser history – going as back as 90 days
- What websites do you visit
- What you do on those websites
- The amount of time you spend on these websites
- Your internet browsing patterns
- Your location
- Your shopping habits, and more
But wait – it gets worse. If you visit websites with unencrypted data (they usually start like this: HTTP://), your internet service provider will also be able to access the following:
- unencrypted email conversations
- unprotected passwords and auto-form filling information
- social media data
- voice messages
- text messages
- images and videos
Shocked? Well, most people are, but don’t panic – there are a couple of ways you can prevent your ISP from tracking all of this data. We discuss these methods towards the end of this article. So, stick with us to learn how to protect your data.
Why Would My ISP Track My Data?
This isn’t a conspiracy theory – ISPs do keep track of a lot of your online activity, and it’s not because they’re snoopy folks who have nothing better to do than to see what other people are up to online; they do it because they have a lot of use for the data that they track.
In the following lines, we will look at 4 of the most important reasons why your ISPs are so interested in tracking your data.
Surveillance Data – For Security
Retaining customers’ data is a common practice among ISP companies throughout the globe. This is because law and enforcement institutions require these companies to record and store their customers’ data for specific periods.
This data is usually required by the police and other law and enforcement agencies while investigating criminal cases – often while inquiring about suspects or searching for leads.
Admittedly, nothing seems to be shady about the police wanting this data to investigate crimes.
However, the problem is that since ISPs hold this data, often without their customers being aware of it, there is always a risk that someone with all of the wrong intentions will get their hands on this data and pose a threat to your security and privacy.
Selling Your Data to Third Parties
The second motive that your internet service providers have to track and store your data is that they can often sell it to third-party companies and advertising agencies at attractive prices.
Advertising agencies need your data to assess the demographic, analyze demand, keep an eye on the up-and-coming trends, find out what people are interested in, and send personalized ads your way. With such a vast range of uses for your data, it’s not surprising that these agencies and other businesses are willing to pay huge sums of money to your ISPs to sell this data to them.
Believe it or not, this practice is perfectly legal in most countries (including the US). So, customers cannot prop up a case about this in courts. It is noteworthy to mention, though, that the rise in awareness about data ownership rights has sparked a debate in the mainstream media about whether or not customers’ data should be sold to third parties without their consent.
One more reason why your ISP may keep track of what you’re up to over the internet is to be able to do something called “bandwidth throttling.” The key to running any business successfully is efficiency.
One of the ways internet service providers practice efficiency is through bandwidth throttling – they adjust the internet speed you receive based on the intensity of tasks you’re performing over the internet.
For example, If you’re browsing and reading through web pages, you will probably only need a limited amount of internet speed. However, in cases where you’re multi-tasking and downloading heavy files or apps, you will require high amounts of internet speed.
Keeping track of your activities helps ISPs adjust your internet speeds according to your needs. Hence saving themselves a lot of money.
Some countries (mostly developed) uphold strict piracy and copyright laws. Over there, torrenting movies, music, shows, and other forms of intellectual property, is punishable by heavy fines or even jail time.
To enforce these laws, the concerned institutions need to be able to track somehow what people are up to over the internet. For this, they take the help of internet service providers and use the data they track and store to ensure that nobody is breaking the law.
In cases where they find such a breach, they use the contact information available about the concerned individual(s) and issue them warnings or heavy fines.
Okay, but Should I Be Concerned?
Many people don’t really care who has access to their data. So when they hear about companies being outed for data or privacy breach issues, they shrug their shoulders and carry onwards with their day.
More often than not, this is because these people don’t see the potential harm they could be exposed to if their data fell into the wrong hands. So, let’s understand how data misuse can be harmful to us.
If the wrong hands get a hold of your data, they will have your contact information, information about your residence, your work, your work, and other data that you would want to keep private.
As we mentioned earlier, if the websites you visit are unencrypted, these third parties can also peek into your photos, videos, chats, and call logs. So, as you can see, data security is no joke; it is time you got serious about it.
How Can I Tell if My ISP Is Tracking Me?
Now that we know that your ISPs can track your data as well as the kind of data they track and the potential harms that such unwanted tracking might send your way, you might be wondering how you can check whether your data is being tracked and if so, by whom?
Unfortunately, there is almost nothing you can do to tell when ISPs are tracing your activities across the web. Sudden, unexplained internet speed drops and suspiciously personalized ads might be indicators of such tracking. Still, nothing can make you conclusively sure your data is being tracked by your ISP.
Top 3 Ways to Hide Your Internet Activity From ISP
What now? Luckily for you, even though you can’t tell whether your ISP is tracking you, you still reserve the power to limit what things your ISP is able to track.
There are encryption tools that help mask your identity online to facilitate you to do this. In the following lines, we will quickly discuss three of the most widely used tools for data protection.
VPNs (or virtual private networks) are services that allow you to encrypt your online data, change what location you virtually appear to be in, mask yourself digitally, and, hence, stop your ISPs from tracking your data.
While using a VPN, all your internet traffic is channeled to a remote server – this means that no one can see what you’re up to on the web. Overall, VPNs are one of the most powerful and most commonly used encryption tools that help tackle the data tracking issues that ISPs pose.
While using a VPN, you may notice a fall in your internet speed. So, it is recommended that you only use it when you don’t want anyone to track your online activities.
Tor is another solution that can help you go under the radar when it comes to data tracking. Tor works by re-routing your traffic to multiple tor network servers (nodes or relays).
These servers are scattered across the globe, enabling you to evade your ISP tracking successfully. Unfortunately, this option has a couple of downsides to avoiding getting tracked online. These include:
- Tor only works for internet browsing – not other kinds of data tracking.
- Tor significantly slows down your internet speed – you can’t perform internet-speed intensive tasks while using it.
- There is a workaround through which your ISPs (and potentially other parties) can still trace your data by intercepting your traffic.
Use a Proxy
Lastly, you may use a proxy to avoid getting tracked by your ISPs over the internet. Proxies are intermediary servers that mediate all activity between your devices and the web.
Unfortunately, people only use proxies to access geo-restricted data – they’re no good when it comes to encrypting your data. Still, many people have a lot to gain from accessing geo-restricted data – hence their popularity.
Let’s go over some of the key pointers of this article one more time:
- ISPs (or internet service providers) have access to many of your private data.
- When the webpages you visit are unencrypted, ISPs may even gain access to your texts, photos, and videos.
- If your sensitive information falls into the wrong hands, it can be extremely damaging for you.
- There are three key methods to protect your data from unwanted tracking:
- Use VPNs
- Tor servers
- Use proxies