Your internet browsing history is not anonymous – each website that you visit can be seen by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). They can also see what you download, your email content, location and even passwords.
An ISP is a company that allows you to have access to the internet. Some are privately run, while others are community-owned. But they all track your online activity, citing the official reason of improving the user experience.
Luckily, there is a way around this. If you don’t want your ISP keeping tabs on what you’re doing, you can use a VPN to keep your information private. It does this by encrypting your data, so that your ISP won’t be able to view it, track it or store it. This also keeps all your online activity safe from third parties and hackers.
But how easy is it to do? And are there any other ways you can stop your ISP from tracking your internet history? Read on to find out everything you need to know.
How to stop ISP tracking with VPN
- Choose a VPN that suits you. We recommend NordVPN, now 68% OFF!
- Create a profile and download the app.
- Log in to your VPN account through the app.
- You should be set! Your information will now be sent to the nearest VPN server and encrypted.
What can your ISP see?
Unless you’re already using a VPN, your ISP can track and log all your online activity. This includes:
- Websites you have visited
- Online searches
- Files you have downloaded
- When and where you connect to the internet
- Social media data
- All your passwords
But why do ISPs track your data at all? The official reason is to improve the user experience. But there are also reasons when the ISP provider seeks profit for themselves ant not the consumer of their service. We have distinguished the 4 main reasons why ISPs track browsing history:
1. Retain user data according to laws
Some countries have strong data retention laws or could be based in one of 5-Eyes, 9-Eyes, and 14-Eyes regions, therefore, ISPs in such regions must collect customer data for a specific time period. That may be user browsing history, location, social media messages, credit card information, etc. This data is retained and could be used to fight against criminal activities, terrorists, or when cooperating with the police.
2. Sell data to advertisers
ISPs can profit by selling your data. Online marketing is incredibly data driven and marketers will pay a lot of money for the highly detailed bank of information your ISP has on you and then target you with campaigns, ads on the sites you visit. It is totally legal for an ISP to sell your data in the US.
3. Throttle connection
ISPs can throttle your connection if they don’t like what you are doing online. For example, you might be using too much bandwidth for your online activities. ISPs might use this situation to offer more expensive plans for better service quality.
4. Implement restrictions
Free internet is not accessible everywhere. Some countries like UAE, China, North Korea have rather strict rules when it comes to internet service. Governments in these countries restrict certain websites that do not comply with the country’s regulations. These could be gambling, streaming, torrenting sites.
How to stop ISP from spying on your browsing activity
Using a reliable VPN is the best way of hiding your activity from your ISP. Not only does it encrypt all the information about you, it also transfers your IP address to the VPN’s server. This means that your ISP can’t track your location when you use the internet.
But VPNs aren’t the only method you can use to block ISP tracking. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at VPNs and some of the other options you can use to protect your data, such as using a Proxy, the Tor network and HTTPS websites.
1. Use a VPN service
The best way to browse the internet without being tracked by your ISP is to use a Virtual Private Network. VPNs route your traffic via a VPN server, encrypt your connection and mask your IP address by providing a new one.
You can feel secure when using a VPN – your ISP can see that you are using one, but they can’t see your browsing, only unreadable data. VPNs also hide your information from hackers and other spammers or data thieves.
Although one thing should be highlighted: free VPNs will not provide the security and anonymity you are looking for, since they tend to sell your browsing data to advertisers and keep logs. Be sure to look out for a trustworthy no-log VPN.
There are a wide variety of VPNs out there you can choose from. Here are some of our favorites:
Probably the most well-known VPN service available, NordVPN provides military-level encryption and features to block unwanted ads as you browse.
PureVPN is a very affordable VPN with a super-secure Always-On security audit. This makes it one of the best overall options for guaranteeing your privacy and security from all third parties – letting your browse the Internet with a full peace of mind.
Surfshark VPN offers fantastic value for money as it’s very reasonably priced. It is also incredibly safe and very user friendly.
2. Use a Proxy server
Using a proxy server is a slightly less common but effective way of getting around geo-restricted sites and hiding your browsing activity from ISPs. They work by routing your information through various servers that could be in or outside your resident country.
However, a proxy server won’t encrypt your information, so the contents of what you’re looking at will still be on display to your ISP. Check the main differences between VPN and Proxy.
You have to be certain that the proxy server you are using is trustworthy. If you’re unlucky enough to use a proxy that is run by a dishonest company, you can leave your information open to manipulation and your device vulnerable to malware.
Proxy servers also only work on specific apps or your browser, whereas a VPN will protect all your internet traffic. One slight advantage of a proxy server however, is that server speeds are generally faster than you will get with a VPN.
3. Use a Tor network
Tor is an encrypted browser that takes your information through a number of servers around the globe in order to hide information from your ISP. Thousands of these servers (or nodes) act to confuse and encrypt the information of the sites you visit. But having these thousands of nodes can seriously impact the performance of your browsing.
On top of this, Tor will only protect your information and block your ISP from tracking your activity while you’re using the browser, and not while you’re using other apps.
Still, Tor is a popular choice with many as it’s easy to install and use. But the problem is, you can’t be sure what servers your information is passing through. It’s unlikely, but your browsing details could pass through servers belonging to another ISP, a hacker, or a government agency.
4. Use HTTPS websites only
The simplest and easiest way to offer yourself some protection from snooping ISPs is to use HTTPS websites. You are probably pretty familiar with HTTPS, as it appears at the start of many URLs. Any URLs that have HTTPS encrypt the content on the page, hiding it from the ISP you’re using.
HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, and it’s essentially the method in which information is transferred from server to user. The S on the end of the HTTPS signifies an SSL, or Secure Socket Layer. This means the information on the page is encrypted and therefore invisible to the ISP.
However, while it can’t see what you’re doing on HTTPS sites, your ISP can still track which sites you’ve visited. So realistically, it can still gather quite a lot of information about you, even if they can’t see exactly what content you’ve been looking at.
Can my ISP block websites?
Yes, it can. ISPs have to abide by rules and regulations depending on their location, so if ISPs are instructed to block specific websites, they will do that, usually at DNS level.
The DNS server your ISP uses acts like a phonebook. When you type in the website name in the address bar, it will return the correct IP address and the website will show up. If the DNS server is configured to block a website, it will return an invalid IP address, leading to a blank page or a message like “You can’t access this website”.
But there is a solution to that. If the DNS provider you are using allows access to a website, then it will return the IP address and the website you are looking for. Therefore, changing the DNS provider to, for example, Google’s, might solve the problem.
Can I be tracked when using a VPN?
No, your internet activity will be unreadable for third parties, including your ISP, if you use a premium quality VPN service that has strong encryption features and a no-logs policy. With a reliable VPN your web traffic is routed via a VPN server that encrypts your data, and the no-log policy ensures that your browsing activity is not shared with other parties. Although the information you provide to sites or services you register to can still be used to track you, for example, when you provide credit card details on a streaming site.
When it comes to free VPNs, they usually provide weak encryption and keep all your connection logs, so they could sell this valuable information to interested parties. Moreover, you might find your DNS is leaking when using a free VPN service, revealing your real IP address.
Be sure to use a trustworthy VPN service with a no-logs policy and strong encryption features to stay as anonymous online as possible. Using a free VPN service can do more harm than good. They tend to leak your connection and sell the information of your web activity to third parties.Read more about NordVPN
How do I protect my browsing history on different devices?
Your ISP can track and store your information on any number of devices. So you need to protect more than just your computer, especially if you use the same profiles on your laptop, phone, computer and tablet.
Protect your PC and laptop from ISP tracking
Installing a reputable VPN, such as NordVPN, on your laptop or PC will protect every single one of the devices in your home from ISPs.
Most VPNs will automatically configure the best settings for you and protect every device in your home. If it doesn’t, you can manually set up a VPN on Chrome, Windows, Apple and IOS devices.
Block ISP tracking of your mobile or tablet
When you connect to the internet through your mobile phone provider, that provider becomes your ISP. And you can be sure they are tracking and storing everything you do as you browse the internet.
A VPN will hide your information from your mobile provider. However, it’s worth noting that, if you protect one device and not another, your ISP can still track you. It can use clues like linked Gmail addresses to determine that you’re the same person, and keep storing your data and logging your activity furthermore it cant start throttling you speed.
How to protect your smart TV from ISP tracking
In 2021, virtually all new TVs come with built-in internet connectivity. So they use an internet service provider, and that means that your activity is tracked. Many people enter card details or make payments through their smart TVs, so they can gather a lot of information on you.
To block ISP tracking of your TV, it can be a good idea to disable the native internet on your TV and instead install your choice of streaming box or stick. You could also cast onto your TV using a device that is already protected by a VPN you have set up.
The bottom line
If you value your privacy and don’t want to take any risks with your online data or the security of your home or your finances, it’s well worth taking some steps to protect your online activity.
Encrypt your information with a combination of VPNs and HTTPS sites and ensure you are protected on all devices, and you can rest easy in the knowledge that that thousands of data points you’ve left all over the internet cannot be used for any malicious purposes.
Do you think we’ve missed out any ways to protect yourself and block ISPs from tracking your internet history? If you have any thoughts, suggestions or even points to debate, please leave them in the comments section below!
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How do you stop your ISP from spying on you?
- Install a VPN to protect your devices and encrypt your information online.
- Use encrypted browsers such as Tor.
- Make use of proxy servers to route your information in a way that stops ISPs from tracking you.
- Browse on websites that have the HTTPS tag at the start of their URL.
How long does your ISP keep your browsing history?
- In the UK, ISPs store your data for 12 months.
- In the US, ISPs store your data for 6 months.
- In India, ISPs store 6 months’ worth of data.
- In the EU, ISPs store data for at least 6 months, but no longer than two years.
Can ISP track your incognito browsing history?
In short, yes. Your incognito browsing only prevents websites from using cookies and keeps your browser history clear, but your ISP can still see exactly what you are doing.