If you still believe that your ISP isn’t interested in tracking your Internet connection, we, unfortunately, will have to disappoint you.
In reality, there exist at least 4 reasons why tracking your online activities is very lucrative for ISPs, and why they’ll work every angle to dig into your sensitive data.
Definition Of ISP Tracking
ISP tracking is a process during which your ISP monitors and records everything you do online.
That means that anything from your search history to email conversations are constantly tracked by your Internet Service Provider.
While you may think that your Internet admin sits in the head office and manually checks each user’s connection, it’s not exactly what happens.
The process of monitoring and logging your online activity is usually fully automated, and therefore your ISP can track hundreds of thousands users at the same time, including yourself.
Why Is Your ISP Tracking You
As we’ve already said, there are at least 4 reasons why your ISP might spy on your connection.
These are the following:
1. Retention of your data
Data retention is a common practice for ISPs throughout the world as they are usually obliged by law to log and store user data for a certain period of time.
This is done to give police and security agencies access to users’ personal information in case they need it to conduct inquiry procedures or even mass surveillance.
Though data retention may be important for tackling crimes and preventing acts of terrorism, oftentimes such a practice heavily violates online privacy rights of ordinary citizens.
Moreover, it puts in danger independent journalists and whistleblowers since they may get deanonymized and become a subject of political harassment.
According to Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and publicly-known American whistleblower, ISPs have been and remain one of the primary sources of data collection for NSA and other intelligence agencies around the world.
2. Selling your data to third parties
Selling customers’ data to advertising companies and other third parties alike is extremely profitable for Internet Service Providers these days, and that’s why they really bother to monitor your Internet traffic.
The thing is your online traffic contains a lot of details about your online browsing and shopping habits that are really invaluable for marketers to send you “personalized” ads.
Given that marketers are willing to spend a good deal of money to get their hands on your personal data, ISPs will gladly sell it at the earliest opportunity.
What is worse, the practice of data selling is deemed acceptable in countries like the US, which means you won’t be able to protect your right for privacy even at courts.
3. Bandwidth throttling
Another reason why your Internet Service Provider may inspect your Internet traffic is bandwidth throttling.
Bandwidth throttling is a practice of slowing down your Internet speeds based on your online activities or services you use.
While ISPs often justify throttling your speeds by saying that it helps them reduce network congestion, in the majority of cases they limit your connection bandwidth to make you subscribe for a more expensive Internet plan.
And since net neutrality laws have long gone into history, there is nothing except special tools that can prevent your ISP from doing that.
4. P2P monitoring
It is a well-known fact that in some countries where torrenting is prohibited by law, ISPs can also monitor your connection to see if you share files over P2P networks.
To find out whether you’re involved in torrenting, ISPs analyze patterns of your online behavior and perform deep packet inspection.
In case they catch you actively using torrenting software, at first they will probably send you a couple of warning notices.
However, if you continue to torrent files despite the warnings, there is a high chance your ISP will pass your Internet activity logs to copyright agencies, and you’ll be required to pay massive fines.
In the worst case scenario, you may even end up in a court.
What Data Do ISPs Track
Since all traffic that you send and receive on the web is routed through your ISP servers, your Internet provider can monitor pretty much anything that you do online.
Things get even worse if you use some services that your ISP offers, for example an email service.
The more personal information your ISP has access to, the more can be tracked.
But what exactly can your ISP see?
In case you visit an encrypted website (the one that starts with https://) your ISP can snoop on the following data:
- Your browsing history
- Websites you visit
- Specific web pages on those websites you open
- How much time you spend on those pages
- Your Internet browsing habits
- Your shopping habits
- Files you share through P2P networks
- Your geo location
- Social media data
- Source & destination IP addresses
However if you visit an unencrypted website (the one that starts with http://), your ISP will also be able to see:
- Unencrypted email conversations
- Passwords and form information
- Images or photos
- Voice messages
- Text logs
How Do You Know If Your ISP Is Tracking Your Internet Activities?
Unfortunately, there is almost no way to tell if your ISP is tracking your online activities.
However, you may notice that all of a sudden your connection speed starts to drop when you're streaming video or playing games and then out of the blue gets back to normal when you’re doing something else.
That is called ISP service/content discrimination.
You may also notice that you started to see a lot of targeted display ads while surfing the Internet (chances are your ISP sold your activity logs to marketers).
Those are all may be the signs (though not direct) that your ISP is watching your every move.
How To Stop ISP From Tracking You
To stop ISP tracking and hide your browsing habits, you have to use tools that will encrypt your online traffic and mask your digital identity.
Here are some of the best tools to do that in descending priority order:
1. Use a VPN
A virtual private network is a service that allows you to encrypt your online traffic, change your virtual location, and mask your digital identity.
When using a VPN connection, all your traffic is routed via a remote VPN server, which means nobody can analyze your Internet traffic and see what you do on the web.
In addition, a virtual private network also changes your virtual location by assigning you an IP address different from that of your ISP.
As a result, your ISP can’t associate the new IP address with your digital identity, and therefore your online identity remains hidden.
However, there can be some exceptions when the data that you transmit may be protected only partially or not protected at all.
That often happens if you use free VPN services that don’t provide proper encryption or ensure all your sensitive data is protected by strict no log policy.
Such VPN services may also leak your real IP address.
Therefore, it is important to find a reliable VPN provider that can offer you all the core security features and maybe even some advanced ones like Kill Switch.
2. Use Tor
Tor is another solution that can help you encrypt your Internet traffic by routing it through multiple Tor network servers also known as nodes or relays.
Those servers are located all over the world, which makes it impossible for ISPs to uncover your identity or keep tabs on what you do on the web.
However there are 3 big downsides of Tor.
Firstly, it works only for Internet browsing.
Secondly, it restricts you only to those activities that don’t require high-speed connectivity.
In other words, Tor servers are quite slow so you won’t be able to stream high quality videos or do anything else like that.
Thirdly, Tor doesn’t encrypt your online traffic on the whole path to the website you visit, your traffic gets decrypted on the way from the last node to the destination server.
This means anyone can use this weak spot to intercept your traffic and read your sensitive data.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the differences between Tor and VPN, you can read our Tor vs VPN article here.
3. Use a proxy
Some people also choose to route their traffic through proxies.
A proxy is an intermediary server between your device and the Internet.
The only purpose why people utilize proxies is that they allow them to access geo-restricted content.
However, if you’re more of a security-oriented person, dealing with a proxy is absolutely useless since it doesn’t encrypt your traffic or protect you from ISP monitoring.
Wrapping Things Up
When it comes to preventing crimes or terrorist attacks, ISP tracking can, of course, be justified.
Meanwhile, it also becomes obvious that ISPs often overstep the mark of what is acceptable by violating your Internet privacy rights and intruding in your personal life.
Luckily, by using a VPN service such as SwitchVPN you can regain your Internet privacy rights and stop ISP tracking once and for all.
With SwitchVPN, you can be sure that everything you do online is your private business only.