The fact that ISPs manipulate and collect their user’s data isn’t exactly the world’s best-kept secret. However, ever since congress repealed the Obama-era FCC Internet regulations, ISPs have been enjoying complete freedom when it comes to collecting and selling user information without their consent.
If you’re one of the many people on the lookout for ways to hide your browsing history from ISPs, you need to look no further, since we’ve compiled an article that provides users with several techniques to bypass ISP surveillance, but before we get into that, let’s have a look at the type of user data collected by ISPs:
What kind of data can your ISP see?
Ever since Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by Donald Trump changed the ISP Privacy Bill, broadband providers have been enjoying a certain level of autonomy when it comes to collecting user’s data.
However, if you’ve got the impression that your ISP is spying on you through your webcam, or keeping tabs on your passwords- that just isn’t true. Regardless of what movies might have us believe, there’s a limit to what ISPs can see since, in most countries and states, individuals are protected by privacy legislation.
Another essential point to keep in mind is that different broadband providers have different privacy policies, which deal with the way ISP treats sensitive information. Moreover, the information that does get revealed to them depends on several factors, the most common one being the IP address assigned by the ISP.
On a general note, the data users unwittingly share online include the following:
- The websites you frequent
- Your online behavior (including the timings when your browsing activity is at the highest)
- A staggeringly accurate estimation of your location.
Other information that ISPs can find through social media platforms and tracking tools such as cookies include:
- Your email addresses
- Your phone numbers
- The information you share on social media (including the places you check in to, your likes, dislikes, political affiliations, etc.)
Why is your ISP tracking you?
Unlike the government or governmental agencies such as the FBI and CIA, broadband providers don’t really have a clear motive for manipulating user data. Most cybersecurity specialists speculate that the primary reason broadband providers store data is to sell it to marketers.
To put this into perspective, let’s consider an example. Imagine you searched Google for a leather jacket to gift to someone. A couple of days later, you find your Facebook feed full of advertisements for jackets from the same company. Surprising, isn’t it?
Well, not really. Your Internet Service Provider has a considerable profit waiting for them by partnering up with marketing companies for ‘targeted’ advertising. The way targeted advertising works is simple. You place consumers in a demographic and target them with adverts for products they’re more likely.
Any information that reveals your likes and dislikes to advertisers is holy when it comes to targeted advertising. Even though the involvement of ISPs might sound sketchy, the new Internet regulations make it legal for ISPs to sell user data without their prior consent.
How can you hide your browsing activities from ISPs?
We’ve already mentioned this before, but we’ll say it once again. When it comes to concealing your browsing behaviors from any prying third-party, using a paid and efficient VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the best solution out there:
#1- Using a VPN:
At PrivacyCrypts, we’re huge fans of VPNs, solely because of the privacy that they can offer through high-grade encryption. With that being said, however, when you’re on the hunt for VPN providers, try to stay away from free VPNs, as they usually do more harm than good.
Some advantages of using VPNs to hide your online adventures include:
- Encryption renders your data into meaningless gibberish: The most significant benefit of using a VPN to bypass your Internet Provider is that it turns your sensitive information into gibberish.
Simply put, a VPN encrypts all of your online communication through an intermediary server, which renders it unreadable to your ISP, or any third-party keeping an eye on you.
- Allows users to bypass geo-restrictions: When we take into account the probability that ISPs in countries with strict internet regulation policies are more likely to surveil their users’ online activities, VPNs come in handy in more ways than one.
For starters, a VPN lets users mask their actual IP address with the IP address of one of its servers, which allows you to browse through an IP address unknown to your Internet Provider.
- Offer additional security features: If you’re using a well-reputed VPN, the chances are that along with providing high-grade encryption, your VPN provider will also have vital elements such as a kill switch, no-log policy, automatic wi-fi security to name a few.
While selecting a VPN provider, try to keep an eye out for security-centric features to ensure your safety at all times while browsing, notably when your internet connection cuts off.
#2- Using the Tor network:
Another prevalent method of getting rid of ISP tracking is by connecting through the Tor network, via the Tor browser. Although several cybersecurity specialists and users unanimously agree on Tor is the most secure and anonymous way of browsing the interwebs, the Tor browser is still a long way from perfect.
Since the Tor network passes your online communication through a random series of relays (also called nodes), tracing the source of the request becomes virtually, hence fulfilling the claims of anonymity Tor makes. However, some drawbacks of using the Tor browser in comparison with a VPN include:
- A VPN encrypts the entirety of your online communication, whereas the Tor network protects data sent over tor only. If you’re in contact with a device that isn’t using the Tor network, you run the potential risk of one side of your online activities being compromised.
- Using Tor is more likely to get you into legal trouble, rather than using a VPN. Considering the fact that a vast majority of Tor users access the dark and deep web, governmental agencies such as NSA and the FBI are incredibly suspicious of Tor users.
- The Tor browser is excruciatingly slow to use, with some users finding the onion browser too complicated for daily browsing.
In an attempt to get the best of both security measures, some users tend to use a VPN before connecting to the Tor network or vice versa, which has its drawbacks and benefits. For more information on connecting to Tor with a VPN, feel free to click here.
#3- Add the HTTPS Everywhere
If you didn’t already know, the letters ‘HTTP’ and ‘HTTPS’ before the websites name on your address bar carry significant weight on your overall security online.
Simply put, HTTP websites contain unencrypted data, whereas HTTPS sites contain encrypted information, and are much more secure than their unencrypted counterpart. However, to fulfill your role as a responsible internet user, download the free browser extension known as ‘HTTPS Everywhere.’
The way that the HTTPS Everywhere extension provides safety online is simple. It forces HTTP sites to encrypt your data (that is if the website is compatible with HTTPS) and conceals the details of your browsing behaviors.
Combining HTTPS Everywhere with cookie and tracking blockers ensures user protection, and turns the details of your online behavior into meaningless junk for anyone sneaking in.
#4 Try switching to a more security-centric Internet Service Provider:
The last technique to keep prying ISPs at bay is perhaps the most obvious one- switching to a more secure ISP.
In theory, switching to more secure ISPs sounds like the ultimate solution to getting rid of unexpected surveillance. With that being said, however, it all depends on the trust you’re willing to put into your ISP.
While searching for ISPs, try to look for an ISP whose privacy policies and values are in tandem with yours, along with paying extra emphasis on their data retention policy.
So, what do you do now?
At the end of the article, we can only hope that we’ve acquainted you with the best ways to protect your browsing history from being manipulated by ISPs and advertisers.
With that being said, however, it is also essential that users realize the loopholes present in many popular, secure alternatives such as Tor, and look for ways to be protected on a more general level.
In this age, it is also crucial that users conduct a threat assessment and look for solutions to those problems accordingly.