There isn’t anywhere you can go online that your internet service provider (ISP) doesn’t know about. At least, not without encrypting your data.
Your ISP has access to all of the details of your internet usage. This is made alarmingly clear by the disclaimer that pops up when switching to a private window on your browser of choice. You’ll see a message warning you that “private browsing” does not hide your information from your ISP.
ISPs are deceitfully inconspicuous. You likely don’t even think about them beyond paying your bills each month and the occasional anger when your service drops for seemingly no reason. But Internet Service Providers are in charge of the entirety of your internet flow and have access to all of the information that is used while accessing the internet.
This could mean your internet searches, your email logins, and even the items you purchase or download.
The way ISPs track your data is by recognizing and monitoring your computer through its individual identification marker – your IP address. This can be avoided by encrypting your data with the use of a VPN, which masks your IP address. When your ISP looks at your usage they see a false IP address which does not reflect your actual online activities, effectively creating a digital red herring.
So, what can and ISP do with your collected data?
Though it is true that the police cannot gain access to your online history just because they feel like it, your internet service provider can be subpoenaed for the information.With a proper warrant all of the activity that is linked to your IP address can be provided.
Additionally, if you don’t pay for your internet, the person who owns the account can request internet activity logs from the ISP. This has shown potential to be dangerous when abusive individuals use that information against their victims, whether it be their spouse, tenant, child, or anyone else.
Throttle or Cut Internet Service Based on Activities
One of the biggest fears people have with ISPs having so much information about their users is their ability to control their users’ services based on the users’ activities.
With all of the drama surrounding net neutrality, this issue has been widely discussed. It is currently perfectly legal for ISPs to throttle your internet. However, the bigger issue is with ISPs throttling your internet based on the websites you visit.
This is a way for the ISPs to effectively hold companies hostage to get them to pay more for internet “fast lanes.” This is also a way for ISPs to push their values on their users by slowing down websites they deem inappropriate or unworthy of full speed internet.
In addition to throttling internet speeds, ISPs can completely cut service if they believe their users are guilty of violating copyright laws.
At this point you may not be surprised by anything we’ve discussed here. However, most people don’t know that in the United States, ISPs can and will sell your personal data to third party vendors.
This data is constantly collected and evaluated so that ISPs can now function as giant marketing agencies. The information is gathered and grouped so that anyone looking to advertise to certain markets can pay ISPs to tell them exactly where to advertise to hit their target viewers.
While some people think targeted advertising is convenient, many find it quite disturbing. It is unnerving to know that one internet search for a specific product can mean advertisements for that product popping up all over the internet for the following months.
How to Protect Yourself
We need ISPs to access the internet, which may make it seem like surfing the internet with any semblance of privacy is impossible. Luckily, there is a way.
ISPs function by identifying your IP address and collecting the data associated with it. To avoid these prying eyes, you simply need to conceal your IP address. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is with a virtual private network (VPN).
A VPN works by creating a secure and encrypted pathway through which to experience the internet. Part of this technique is obscuring a user’s IP address and making it appear as if an IP address associated with one of their servers belongs to the user.
This means that when your ISP looks at your IP address, what they find is an address that does not link back to you or your digital footprint.
Living in a digital world while the internet is being stalked by ISPs can be frustrating, but there are options out there to protect yourself. Don’t let your ISP bully you and control your activities through throttling. Use a VPN to efficiently regain online freedom.