IS YOUR ISP SPYING ON YOU?
The simple answer to this question is, YES! But perhaps not in the way you think.
They are not eavesdropping on your conversations or running surveillance teams on you around the clock. However, that does not mean they do not capture, keep, and possibly sell some of your sensitive data.
Every ISP has a set of its own privacy rules that seek to protect your sensitive data. For example, there is a good chance a marketing company could not walk into the head office of your ISP and ask for a spreadsheet with your information on it in exchange for money.
But there are still some things they do that could be considered a breach of trust and confidentiality.
The obvious question here is, what does it matter? We're advertised to all day long on the Internet, what's a few more targeted ads? And who cares if the government uses ISP information to bust some criminals or crack down on terrorism.
That's a good thing, right?
The most common way this happens is through marketing.
A particular company approaches an established company like Facebook, for example, and asks them to market their product towards a certain demographic. Once the deal is struck, Facebook uses the data they already have on their users to send the adverts to the specified demographic.
Therefore, this is typically how your browsing history data is sold – indirectly.
So, take a moment and think about everything your ISP could potentially know about you. Maybe you use BitTorrent to download the occasional copyrighted song or movie. Maybe you've been viewing sites you would prefer your family not know about. If you did some research on cancer warning signs, would you want your health insurance provider to know? And do you really want your boss to find out how actively you're looking for a new job? Your browsing history says a lot about you, and most of us would prefer that it stayed between us and our computer.
VPNs and Proxies:
Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are most commonly used by businesses to allow employees to work remotely. When you log in from your home or while traveling, the VPN provides an encrypted connection to your work's network, allowing you to work just as security as if you were in the office. Your browsing history over the VPN is not viewable by your ISP, but it may viewable by your employer.
A number of companies now provide VPN access for regular Internet users. Like VPN for work, these systems allow you to encrypt your online activity, so your ISP cannot track it. These type of private VPNs can be used to provide secure browsing while you're connected to a public Internet connection, or to mask your online activities from your ISP.
Similar to VPNs, there are a number of proxy services that will hide your IP address and encrypt your online activity. Programs like Proxify can be installed on your device to allow anonymous browsing, while others like Anonymouse must be accessed through the provider's website.
Be careful when choosing a VPN or proxy service. While they should all allow you to mask your activity from your ISP and the websites you visit, some of them may actually keep their own logs of your browsing activity. Be sure to check their terms of service; otherwise you may wind up paying for the same lack of privacy you were already getting!
A Final World of Caution:
While the above tools are perfectly legal to utilize, the activities you choose to use them for areÂ still governed by the same laws as everything else you do online. They may make it harder for your ISP or anyone else to track your activities, but they won't make it impossible.
If you're doing something that deserves to be on the FBI's radar, don't expect to get away with it just because you're using Tor. And remember, privacy can be a very powerful tool, but everyone's privacy is put in jeopardy by those who abuse it.