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What does your ISP know about you?

Just in case you are not familiar with the term ISP, it stands for “Internet Service Provider”. An ISP provides access to the Internet. Whether you’re at home or work, each time you connect to the Internet your connection is routed through an ISP.

What can your ISP really see?

Your ISP can see your IP address which is assigned to you by the ISP when you take up the service and the kind of information you readily share online.

Using your active IP address your ISP can gather the following information:

  • The URLs you visit online
  • The pages you visit most frequently
  • Your online/offline habits (when you typically log on and off)
  • How much time you spend on certain webpages
  • Your specific current location (if location services are enabled)
  • Your personal relationships
  • Your phone numbers
  • Your email
  • Your social media data

These are all examples of information that we may openly share online. We do sometimes share information unintentionally, such as all those fine print pages you agree to without actually reading first.

The Federal Trade Commission recently issued orders to AT&T, AT&T Mobility, Comcast Xfinity, Google Fiber, T-Mobile, Verizon and Cellco in order to provide specific information regarding the collection, retention and use of customer data.

Here are some methods which will help limit what your ISP tracks from you:

  1. Use HTTPS: Using HTTPS does not mean that everything you do online will be encrypted. Using HTTPS instead of HTTP ensures that your data is encrypted before transferring it therefore making it more secure.
  2. Use Tor to browse anonymously: Tor is a wide network of virtual tunnels that allow you to browse the internet without leaving traces. Once you download Tor, you will be directed to a special browser called the Tor Browser. This browser will provide you with a protected IP address which is different from your own. Within this browser, you can use the internet anonymously.
  3. Use a VPN: A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that lets you access the web safely and privately by routing your connection through a server ultimately hiding your online actions.

Conclusion

It’s important to understand that ISPs are in business for profit. A huge part of that profit comes from the fact that advertisers can use the data that ISPs mine from your browsing habits with a view of targeting you with product information. The fact that many of us willingly put so much of our information online, adds to this pool of mined data and ultimately makes it easier for advertisers and ISPs to track you.

While it might not be possible to stay completely invisible online without staying off the internet altogether, there are things you can do to make it far more difficult for your ISP to track you and your every online move.

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Patrik Liscinsky

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