What Do ISPs See On My Internet History?
He has been using the same Internet Service Provider (ISP) for years and yet it was the first time Josh received an email from them. It was a passive warning about something that Josh had downloaded from the Internet the previous month. In the email, the ISP requested him to not visit a certain questionable website, and that is when it clicked him. He had downloaded a file that was apparently protected by copyright. But more than what he did, what troubled Josh more was the confirmation to the fact that his ISP logged his on-line activities. Which brings us to the pressing question: what do ISPs see? What information do they track? How open is your connection? And how bad is it?
What Do ISPs See?
Net neutrality has again come to the fore and shifted our focus from a more concerning issue that we, Internet users, deal with: privacy. Although we have always known that ISPs can see some of what we do on-line, the idea of what exactly and to what extent was not clear. That is not the case today. Countless studies and actual disclosure by Internet providers have given us enough evidence about ISPs’ spying nature. Knowing what all can your ISP see can help you take better decisions about your on-line activities and thereby safeguarding yourself from a scenario such as Josh’s or worse.
What All Information Can and Does Your ISP See?
Your ISP can log all the websites that you visit. With systems in place and some more work, it can also log what content you are sharing – downloading or uploading – what emails you are exchanging, and what entities you are interacting with over the Internet. Does it really see and/or track what you do is completely subjective.
Of course, all these information is in the form of metadata i.e. internet protocol (IP) addresses and port numbers. Which means that your ISP will have to do some extra technical work to get what they want. Why they want it and is it even worth going after your data is dependent on the ISP itself. Big players often work with governments to crack down on pirates who upload and monetize copyrighted content on-line, which gives us enough reassurance about where the dispositions of organizations who promote ISP spying lie.
However, if your connection with a website is encrypted (for instance, when you visit a website that uses HTTPS) then your ISP will need a lot of work to decrypt the information that is being shared. ISPs can still deduce what websites you visit to a certain degree of certainty.
Tracking Your Internet History
We have covered the dangerous world of torrenting before, and that is one of the biggest examples of how and what ISPs can know about your on-line activities. A quick look at what other IP addresses you visited can give them a lot of information about your intents and surfing interests. According to recent studies, this data can be processed to also extract information such as your financial background and health issues.
All this can be very alarming, but it is also a very far-fetched train of thought. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has laws in place to protect your privacy, but not all policies are devoid of ambiguities, which somehow prevents ISPs’ actions from falling in the gamut of privacy invasion.
You cannot entirely hide your Internet activity from your ISP because 100% encryption on the Internet is still a dream. However, you can make it harder for them by using a reliable VPN, the best possible solution to safeguard your privacy in an ever-growing and invasive on-line world.