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March 23, 2021

ISP Data Collection: What Info Does Your Internet Service Provider Collect?

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In order to access the internet, you need a few things. First, a device that can connect to the web. Fortunately, these devices are in almost everyone’s homes and pockets. Desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets all fit the bill. Second, you need a subscription with an internet service provider. These companies, also known as ISPs, are the gateway to the web. They connect your device to the servers that make accessing online content possible. In turn, they ensure results from those servers are correctly returned to your device, by assigning it an IP address (essentially the virtual version of your home address). Unfortunately, because ISPs control virtually all access to the internet, they have a lot of unfettered power and access, which they can wield to collect user data and use it to their advantage. Here’s what you should know about ISP data collection and how to protect yourself:

  • What info does your ISP collect?
  • How can you protect your data?

What Info Does Your ISP Collect?

There are two main types of information involved in ISP data collection. The first is unencrypted data. If you don’t protect your activity, internet service providers can easily view and store it with ease. The second is encrypted data. While this type of information is less personally identifying, it can still tell ISPs a lot about you. 

Unencrypted Data

When the internet was first created, it didn’t include many protections for users. The focus was on making as much content available as possible, as quickly as possible. Since then, with the threat of hackers, viruses, and more, enhanced security has become the norm for most websites and online activities. But not all. If you take part in unsecured activities, your internet service provider gets a window into everything you do online. So, what might be unencrypted?

  • The websites you visit. Most new websites use HTTPS security protocols, which means the activity you conduct on the website is only visible to you, and the website itself. However, some older websites still use the unsecured HTTP protocol, which means your activity on the site-such as passwords, contact information, and more-can be seen by anyone who wants to see it, including your internet service provider.
  • Your emails. Some email providers don’t use modern security protocols either, called Transport Layer Security. If you use one of these, or send messages to an account without TLS, ISPs may be able to read your personal emails.
  • Your torrents. Internet service providers can tell when you’re torrenting content online. In this case, they may not care about what you’re torrenting, but rather that the process of torrenting uses up a lot of bandwidth. With this information, they can throttle your internet speeds.

Encrypted Data

Even if all of your online activity is encrypted, your internet service provider can still gather a lot of information about you. It includes:

  • The websites you visit. While ISPs can usually see the websites you visit whether or not your activity is encrypted, in this case, they can only see the website name, not what you do on the site.
  • The bandwidth you use. If you routinely conduct activities that use a lot of bandwidth, like online gaming, your ISP can see this extra use and throttle your speeds. 
  • Your daily patterns. If you’re a creature of habit, your ISP can make a lot of inferences about how you use the internet based on your habits. For example, if you check social media first thing in the morning, your ISP can see how much data is being accessed and use the information about its size to infer that it’s social networking data.

How Can You Protect Your Data?

Unfortunately, we cannot abandon ISPs altogether, though that would be the easiest way to protect our online data from them. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do that will keep you safer from them:

  • Use HTTPS websites. Unencrypted HTTP websites leave all of your activity out in the open for anyone to see. By using only encrypted sites, you protect the bulk of your data from your ISP.
  • Use secure email providers. If your email provider doesn’t use TLS encryption, switch to a different one. If you’re worried about possible privacy issues stemming from using big platforms (like Google’s Gmail), check out some of the most popular privacy-focused email providers
  • Use a VPN. VPNs, or virtual private networks, encrypt your data, and route your internet traffic through their own servers, so it doesn’t have to go through those of your ISP. HotBot’s VPN service is great for anyone looking for better privacy online.

If you use the internet, you’re at the mercy of your internet service provider when it comes to data protection. Many ISPs collect your personal data and use it for their own gain, or sell it to third parties, and there’s little you can do about it. Rather than let these companies get away with ISP data collection, take steps to protect yourself where you can.

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