Here’s what your ISP knows about you and what you can do about it

Getting your daily dose of internet is generally a care-free experience. You can scroll endlessly through Twitter, binge-watch your favourite shows on Netflix, buy one too many products on Amazon, and find out the latest news on your favourite websites. Wait, what’s this? A page filled with targeted ads about that LinkedIn job you just looked up and your boss just walked by while giving you the side-eye? Oh, the humiliation.

Okay, that’s a far-fetched scenario that a quick look over your shoulder and Ctrl + Shift + Tab would have solved. But it’s harder to keep your online activities private when you can’t see who is watching. Whether you like it or not, most of us are already being watched by the gatekeepers that grant us passage to the internet.

Your internet service provider (ISP) gives you complete access to the world wide web, but they also keep tabs on all the sites you visit, log your interests, and can sell them off to marketing companies. They can even see if you use Bitcoin. What’s worse, other organizations can gain access to your accumulated profile, and if a hacker cracks the system, your information can be compromised without anyone realizing it.

If you’re thinking “come on, laptop. I thought what I searched was meant to stay between me and you,” then you’re not alone. There’s plenty of information your ISP knows about you, but there’s also a simple way to keep your online activities encrypted. 

Why do ISPs track you?

There isn’t one specific reason why ISPs track users, as different regions have different guidelines and rules to follow. For example, censorship plays a big role in certain countries, and some governments use ISPs to restrict access to websites or apps that are against their policies. The ISP will know if a user in these regions is attempting to access these sites, and block them due to regulations.

There’s also data retention laws in different countries that have ISPs track and collect certain information, such as browsing history or emails, for a set period of time. This can be used by a federal government service or law enforcement to gain insight into cybercrime and terrorist acts. As an example, web browsing history of people under investigation was given to the Australian police under data retention laws (even though this practice had been excluded from legislation) in 2020, as reported by The Guardian

(Image credit: Getty)

While using data to stop suspicious activities by malicious users online can be a good thing, your ISP can do a lot more with it. As we know, Edward Snowden leaked NSA documents showcasing its mass surveillance practises, and American telecommunications company Verizon was sharing its customer data with the NSA. Not the best look.

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