8 Tips and Tricks to Protect Your Privacy From Your Internet Service Provider
Internet Service Providers or most commonly referred to as ISPs are companies whose main service is to provide consumers with internet connection. There are many ways by which data can be transmitted to consumers such as cable modem, DSL, dial-up, and wireless connections to name a few.
ISPs may also offer other services such as television and telephone services. In return, consumers like us pay these companies for their services. The amount may differ depending on our data usage or depending on the data plan selected when a consumer first signed up with the ISP.
ISPs – More Than Internet Service Providers
Your internet service provider most probably has more than internet, telephone, or television service up their sleeve. You probably know already that ISPs have the ability to track and monitor your browsing habits. How do they do this? They can track you through your IP address. Every time you open a browser window and type in a URL, your ISP will log that.
What’s even scarier is that when you use your mobile devices, ISPs can track not only the apps you are using, but also the call and text logs. They don’t really keep a record of the actual calls and text, but still, it is scary to know that someone, somewhere is actually keeping a log of what you thought were confidential and personal conversations.
Wired, in a memo that discusses the telecoms that store consumer data, found out ISPs keep a list of the people you exchanged SMS/text messages. The most “privacy-friendly” ISP is Verizon, who stores the record for one year, followed by Sprint who keeps the same record for eighteen months. T-mobile stocks this list five years, while it is seven years for AT&T.
Alarmingly, however, Verizon keeps the actual contents of your text messages. They store it for five days, while the other ISPs – Sprint, T-mobile and AT&T – do not store actual contents of your text messages at all.
What information are ISPs tracking?
Here is a list of what your ISP can be tracking:
- The exact time you connect to the internet;
- The websites you visit and their specific URLs;
- The specific pages you open in each website;
- How long you go online;
- How long you visit websites;
If you are also using your mobile phones, ISPs can further get the following:
- Your call logs – everyone you talked to using the phone;
- Your text logs – everyone you exchanged text messages with;
- Your actual text messages – if your ISP is Verizon;
- The apps you are using and how much time you spend on these apps;
- How frequently you use your apps.
8 Tips to Protect Your Privacy
It is pretty creepy knowing that your ISP knows so much about you. They may even know things that your closest friend doesn’t know about you. Thus, let us explore eight tips on how to protect yourself from your ISP’s tracking:
Know the difference between HTTP and HTTPS
HTTP is an acronym for hypertext transfer protocol, and it is generally used to in transmitting data from a website’s server to your browser so that you can access and view a web page. Notice that when you type in a URL, say www.limevpn.com/network-locations, in the address bar of your browser, it automatically becomes http://www/limevpn.com/network-locations or https://limevpn.com/network-locations.
The difference is that with HTTP, without the “S” at the end, the data transmitted is not encrypted. This could mean that anyone – including your ISP – can intercept and store the data. However, this encryption has certain limitations. In the example URL above, your ISP won’t know that you are viewing the Network Locations page, but they will still know that you are accessing the LimeVPN website.
HTTPS was primarily used in e-commerce websites, when consumers pay their purchases and need their financial information encrypted. These days, however, even websites that do not offer online payments makes use of HTTPS because of the security it provides.
Despite the benefit in terms of security that comes with using HTTPS instead of HTTP, not all websites make use of it. The added cost could be a factor, but there may be other unknown reasons. Other websites, on the other hand, offer limited HTTPS support such that when you go to another page, you will be directed to the default unencrypted HTTP.
For websites that offer limited HTTPS support, you can use HTTPS Everywhere. This is an extension for Firefox, Opera, and Chrome browsers that was developed by the EFF. With HTTPS Everywhere, you will be sure that every page on a certain website is encrypted and will not go back to the default HTTP.
Choose the right Internet Service Provider
Since the money you are paying to the ISP comes from your own wallet, you have the freedom to choose who provides your internet connection. Thus, select the ISP that respects your privacy. The EFF has provided a list of ISPs that aim to protect your security and privacy.
Opt-out of ISP Tracking
With the repeal of consumer’s privacy protection, ISPs are basically allowed to automatically enroll their consumers to trackers that monitor their online activities. As a user, you can check if it is possible for you to opt out of this by going to your account settings. You can go to the marketing, privacy, or ads settings and check there.
Make adjustments to your DNS
DNS or Domain Name System is like the phone book of the internet. It translates people-friendly websites such as www.eff.org into a machine-friendly IP address that is numerical.
By default, your devices are configured to use the DNS of your internet service provider. This makes it easier for them to track your browsing habits. You can actually use a third party DNS so that your ISP won’t know the machine translations of your websites.
Get a VPN
The internet is a gigantic network that connects the whole world with the use of thousands of devices – modems, computers, routers, servers, wires, and many more. It is a complex network and within it lies the concept of a VPN or a virtual private network. By the name itself, a vpn that it does not physically exists. However, it uses the same system, the same devices, the same network of devices that the internet makes use of.
With a vpn service, your privacy and data security can be well protected from your internet service provider. This is because everything that goes in and out of your device through a VPN is highly encrypted, making it difficult and even impossible for your ISP to know what you are accessing online.
Thus, ISPs will not be able to track and store your personal information, the way they normally do if you don’t use a vpn.
Choose the right VPN Provider
Hundreds of VPN providers are available all over the world, but not all of them have your privacy in mind. Ever wonder why some VPNs are offered for free, or for a cheap price only? This is the main business of these VPN providers are not really the protection of your privacy, but the exact opposite. These companies are just masquerading as VPN providers, but they are really after your information. Their main business is to sell your information to advertisers.
Thus, choose to get a paid VPN service instead of a free one. A good VPN service provider has several servers all around the world and makes use of military-like encryption all in a reasonable price.
Tor Browser works similarly as a VPN in that it hides your online activities by hiding your real IP address. Your ISP will only know that you are using the Tor network. The limitation is that there are websites that are not compatible with Tor because of the built-in security. You may also have to change your online habits while on the Tor network.
The Bottom Line
Your ISP may be the only one who really knows you and your habits. They may even know you more that your friends and family does because of their tracking capabilities. What is even more frightening is that the government seem to support them. With the recent repeal of consumer’s privacy protection, they are basically allowed to spy on you.
The eight tips above are just a few ways to help you protect your privacy. However, your ISPs will still a have an idea of what you are doing online. The most recommended solution is getting a vpn provider that really provides internet security and data protection. However, the ultimate solution is when the government itself protects the consumers.