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Can Your ISP Track Your Browsing Activity?

Posted by BulletVPN on 15 01 2020.

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is the main host of the infrastructure that connects you to the World Wide Web and routes the requests and responses between your device and the sites you visit. So, does this mean that, by definition, your ISP can see everything you do? Can it track which site you visit in order to route your request successfully? That’s a simple yes, and your privacy is at stake. In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about ISP tracking and how you can avoid it using BulletVPN.

Is Your ISP Tracking You?

What is ISP Tracking and Why Do They Apply It?

Whenever you visit a website, your data has to go through the ISP’s servers before it reaches its destination and Vise-Versa. Think of it as the local link between your device and the internet.

In other words, you can not use the World Wide Web without having an ISP present in the middle. To shed more light on the matter, the image below shows you how your data travels once you issue a page request.

Internet Map

Since your data passes through your ISP’s servers, you can imagine the amount of data they’ll be able to see and monitor. Your ISP tracks whatever IP addresses you contact, which effectively means they know the web sites you’re visiting.

Moreover, ISP tracking means that they can record information and store them for later use. We’ll be talking about that next. But for now, let’s take a look at what your ISP can see and track once you hit the “Enter” button:

  • Every URL you visit
  • Your most frequent requests
  • Logging information (In and Off)
  • The time you spend on certain web pages
  • Your physical location

You need to take a look at the reasons in order to understand why your ISP does that in the first place. Is there a reason for this? Is a single internet user that important? Let’s see.

1. Retention Laws

Your ISP tracks your clicks for a number of reasons, and one of them is based on the country you live in. Every country has its own laws, and when it comes to the internet, some regions apply very strict ones.

In some countries, it’s more than legal for your ISP to store your internet data for a specific period of time. Moreover, it can be made available in the near future for law enforcement agencies if they request it for an investigation process.

Also, collecting your data plays an important role in your government’s fight against crimes and terrorism. While some of you might be surveilled for no reason, others are monitored because of what they share on the internet.

Strict laws don’t involve crimes only; some of them take away the right to express yourself. Whistleblowers and journalists are the affected parties as there are consequences to what they post online. The ISP can help the government see what these users are posting and provide them with all the necessary data, including the user’s location (Based on the IP address).

The Eyes

Some government surveillance agencies don’t always use an ethical manner to collect your data. In fact, in an age of unprecedented global surveillance, the likes of the Five Eyes might be watching you, despite being no more than ordinary. Whether it’s the Five, Nine, or Fourteen Eyes, rest assured that your data is being intentionally spied on and shared within these countries in the association.

There’s solid proof to that. You can check Edward Snowden’s leak of secret files as they reveal how the NSA is working alongside governments around the world to implement mass surveillance in the US and beyond.

While there are dozens of ways they can conduct to harvest your data or monitor it, requesting the information directly from your ISP remains their key method. Now, in case you’re not familiar with what we call, The Eyes, here’s the full list:

Five Eyes

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Nine Eyes

  • Five Eyes’ Countries
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Netherlands
  • Norway

Fourteen Eyes

  • 9 Eyes countries
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Sweden
  • Spain

2. Bandwidth Throttling

You’re probably not aware of the term, but you’ve been through this before. ISP Throttling is when your service provider slows down your internet speed, intentionally. Despite claiming that it’s a measure employed in communication networks to regulate network traffic and minimize bandwidth congestion, there’s more to that.

It might be to reduce network congestion, that’s a fact. However, some ISP’s rely on that to gain extra from their customers. They throttle your connection to convince you into upgrading to a costlier subscription or paying for a new, more expensive data plan.

Since your ISP assigns your IP address and know what IP addresses you are communicating with, it’s easily deduced that they know what you’re doing. Be it streaming, downloading, gaming, or just browsing, it’s all monitored. And according to your data usage, your ISP throttles your internet.

3. Advertising (Selling User’s Data)

Just like Facebook and Google, your internet service provider does sell your information. Regardless of the region you reside in, your ISP has the full right to harvest a vast amount of your personal information and is free to sell it to advertising industries.

We compared your ISP to Facebook and Google. However, there’s a slight difference between them. All of them are known to sell user information to advertising industries. But in Facebook and Google’s case, you’re somehow aware of the data collecting process as you, on your own, let them track you in exchange for their services.

In fact, you can stop them from doing that by seizing to use these services once and for all. As for your ISP, you are left with no choice. You need to use their services to get access to the internet. What’s really frustrating about this is that you’re paying for your ISP’s services in both money and private information.

Why do they sell your data? Well, advertising generates a significant amount of revenue for your ISP. When it sells your information, the advertising partners use the collected data to create relevant ads and target you with them on the web pages you visit. After that, whatever revenue comes out is equally divided among the two parties.

Your ISP can harvest your data by installing a sniffing software on all ports. They can learn basic information about the websites you visit and the end address of both senders. This occurs in the case of encrypted HTTPS connections. As for websites that don’t come with encryption (HTTP), the sniffing software may gain access to the contents of the message and so much more, sent and received.

4. Monitoring P2P Usage

P2P sharing isn’t that loved around the world, but it’s considered to be illegal in certain regions, mainly those with strict copyright regulations. That’s when the government forces ISPs to monitor users’ connections in order to make sure they’re not engaging in such acts, including torrenting.

These acts have consequences in most countries. As a best-case scenario, you’ll get a warning notice to stop doing what you’re doing at once. Your ISP may submit your information to copyright agencies, which then will bombard you with DMCA notices. However, it might get worse, where you have to pay huge fines or end up in court.

Torrenting is sometimes the only way users can get access to the various files they need. But major ISPs, such as Comcast, don’t tolerate such internet usage. A while ago, the provider installed some sort of software that interfered with certain BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing communications.

According to a director of BitTorrent:

“I’m a director of BitTorrent Inc. (though not speaking for it) and so the recent debate about P2P applications and ISPs has been interesting to me. Comcast has tried to block off BitTorrent traffic by detecting it and severing certain P2P connections by forging TCP reset packets. Some want net neutrality legislation to stop such nasty activity, others want to embrace it. Brett Glass, who runs a wireless ISP, has become a vocal public opponent of P2P.”

5. Online Censorship

The current technological advancement gives internet users the impression that the internet is unrestrained, or in other words, cannot be restrained. The problem is, this is far away from the actual reality.

The harsh truth is, there are a lot of countries that seek to control the internet. By that, we mean “censor” what they want and allow you to access what they see fit by their standards. Most of the time, the reason behind this censoring is political. An example of that would be the internet blackout in the Republic of Congo under the guise of  “preventing election day chaos.” The internet was shut down for 20 days until the results came out.

Other forms for censorship include websites that incite hatred, speaks ill of a country’s government or regime, and those that encourage movements and activities against a certain religion. How do governments enforce such censorships? It’s definitely through their ISPs as they can see every website you visit and grant you access to them at the same time.

They and only they can control what you get to access and block you if necessary, as mandated by the government. You’ll find a list below presenting the most censored countries when it comes to the internet or, as some dub them, “Enemies of the Internet.”

  • Bahrain
  • Belarus
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Ethiopia
  • India
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Pakistan
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Turkmenistan
  • UAE
  • United States
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam

What Can You Do to Prevent ISP Tracking?

Now that you know what your ISP has been up to all this time, you might be wondering how to lower the chances, if not eradicate, their tracking habits. Well, users can’t just go on and talk ISPs out of monitoring their browsing activities and collecting their data. However, they can, instead, take matters into their own hands and conceal what they do. How? There are a couple of methods users can follow to browse the web anonymously and cloak everything they do from their ISP. Check them out below.

1. The Tor Browser

To kick it off, you must know that Tor is not a 100% failsafe, but it’s still an excellent option to hide your browsing activities from your ISP. Whatever you do while using the Tor browsing is anonymous, and your search history is not visible for prying eyes.

The name is short for The Onion router, an anonymity-centric version of none other than Mozilla Firefox.  The browser bounces your connection between multiple relays, making it next to impossible for third-parties to track your moves.

However, Tor is great in blocking your ISP from harvesting your data while on the browser, but it falls short when it comes to other data from apps you download and use. Furthermore, the browser might not even operate in your country as your ISP can ban internet connection if it deemed to be routed from Tor.

All in all, Tor is a great way to secure your data. It might not be perfect, but at least its a valid solution for online anonymity.

2. HTTPS Browser Extensions

While browsing the web, many users will come across websites marked as (HTTP). The websites are not safe to roam around in as there’s no encryption present, which compromises everything you do.

You’ll also find ones that support encryption over HTTPS. Now, to make it a lot easier for users, they can use HTTPS extensions as they fix this problem by applying over-the-top technology that rewrites requests to the HTTP sites into HTTPS.

No matter what website you visit, the extension’s main job is to encrypt them. There’s no denying that your ISP will still be able to see what websites you visit. However, if encryption is in place, they will never know what activity you practice there.

For instance, if you’re visiting a streaming website, your ISP will be able to see that. But what they can’t see is what videos you’re watching or the search queries you perform during that visit. It might not be much, but it’s one step closer to online anonymity.

3. Incognito

The growing concern for one’s privacy while browsing the web drove browser developers to include extra features for a better, safer, and more confidential online surfing. Now, if you want to visit a certain website, you can do so by using the Incognito mode.

This option is also known as private browsing or private window in case you haven’t stumbled upon Incognito yet. It’s a setting that prevents browsing history from being stored. Whenever you visit a page (a normal browser), every website, text, image, and cookies required by the page will be automatically stored on your computer.

While using Incognito, your browser will forget all of the above information as soon as you close the window. Or, it won’t store it at all. You must know that private mode is not designed for complete anonymity, it helps sure, but it’s not fully private.

When you use this feature, your IP address is still recognizable by anyone who has the ability to monitor you. Be it hackers, the website itself, a search engine, and, of course, your ISP. Again, complete anonymity is not guaranteed with this, but it does help.

4. Virtual Private Networks

As the methods mentioned above can partially secure and hide your browsing activities, a VPN can do so, minus the partial part. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN is an encrypted connection over the internet from a device to a network.

When you connect to a VPN server, your data passes through a private tunnel and the VPN encrypts it in the process. Along the way, your IP address gets cloaked and you’ll receive an alternate one in the country where the server is based.

This prevents unauthorized people from eavesdropping on what you’re doing while surfing the internet, including your ISP, government, and any other malicious online entity. As a plus, gaining a new IP address in a different country allows you to access its restricted content despite being geo-blocked in yours.

BulletVPN is a service that does all the above at blazing-fast speeds. You’ll also have special features to protect your privacy. If the VPN connection cuts, BulletVPN’s kill switch will terminate your internet access so that what you were doing does not flow back through your ISP’s servers.

In addition, you have Bullet Shield, which doesn’t even allow you to access the internet if you’re not connected to a BulletVPN server. All in all, using a VPN is the ultimate way to protect your online anonymity and prevent your ISP from tracking and monitoring you.

Getting a BulletVPN Account

BulletVPN allows users to test their service for 30 days risk-free. If they weren’t satisfied, they can ask for a full refund. Now, let us show you how you can create a BulletVPN account:

  1. First, head over to BulletVPN’s official website.
  2. Create an account, select your payment option, and proceed.
  3. Download the BulletVPN application on your device. There are dedicated clients for Android, iOS, PC, Mac, as well as Fire Stick.
  4. Launch the app, sign in with your username and password, and head over to the server list.
  5. Connect to a VPN server.
  6. You’re now secure and completely anonymous.

ISP Tracking Explained and Solved – Final Words

Some internet users still think that their ISP doesn’t bother keeping track of every single thing they do online. However, in reality, Internet Service Providers record information about online connections and activities almost on a daily basis.

Now you know what your ISP knows about you, can learn about you, and why does it apply such practices. You also know how you can prevent it and protect your privacy. In case you need more help, please contact our support team; they’re available 24/7 via live chat.

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