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How to block ISP tracking

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Internet Service Provider or ISP is the company you pay every month to have access to the internet. And if you think that your ISP is not interested in what you are doing online it’s time to be disappointed.

Reasons why your ISP is tracking you

There are four main reasons why ISP is interested in monitoring and gathering users’ data:

  1. Profit. ISPs easily and legally collect plenty of data that customers leave during everyday online activity. Marketers, advertisers, and different third-party companies are interested in buying and analyzing this information. It reveals a lot about shopping interests, hobbies, and online behavioral patterns. As a result, companies easily find their target audience and bombard it with personalized ads, spam, and promotions.
  2. Bandwidth throttling. Bandwidth throttling means slowing down internet connection speed depending on what you do online. Often ISPs explain throttling as a necessary way to reduce congestion on their networks. But in most cases your ISP just wants you to subscribe to another higher-priced internet plan, which offers faster speed.
  3. Peer-to-peer monitoring. P2P networks consist of millions of machines connected to each other and each device functions both as a server and a client at the same time. Torrents are a popular example of peer-to-peer file sharing. Because torrents are prohibited in some countries, ISPs might control your connection to inspect your packets and check if you use P2P networks.
  4. Data retention. In many countries, governments oblige ISPs to track and store users’ online activity data for a certain period of time. Law enforcement agencies use this information for safety reasons, to prevent acts of terrorism, or to tackle crimes. However, things like this violate the rights of ordinary people when it comes to their online privacy.

What data ISPs might track?

ISP has access to lots of your online activity data, in particular to:

  • IP addresses and domain names of websites you visit. If you go to a website with HTTPS, your ISP can’t see what specific page on the domain you visit, but the domain itself is still visible.
  • Unencrypted communication. ISPs have access to your browsing activity on unencrypted websites and can know way too much: content on webpages, passwords, content of forms, payments details and so on.
  • And certainly, your ISP knows your full name, exact location, and contact information. And all that data is naturally linked to records and logs of customers’ internet activity.

How to block ISP from tracking

Good news: it’s possible to prevent your ISP from tracking and storing your data. If you don’t want to be an object of ISP’s surveillance you have some options. All of them have their pros and cons, so let's dive in and figure out which one is the best.

Using VPN

Virtual private networks are probably one of the most reliable and convenient ways to protect your online activity from ISPs tracking. With a VPN you can significantly improve your privacy and anonymity online. Let’s see how VPN works.

Firstly, VPN encrypts all your internet traffic. This means that no one who has access to your traffic can read or analyze it.
Secondly, when you use a VPN your browsing activity goes through the VPN server and bypasses your ISP. So it can’t track you and store your data. In addition, a VPN server also hides your current IP address assigned to you by your ISP from the outer world. It protects your digital identity, because it’s not possible anymore to link your activity on the web with your actual IP address or your ISP.

However, not all VPNs wish to protect you. Free VPN services might not guarantee a strict no-logging policy. That means that a VPN service provider itself can track you instead of your ISP.

Premium VPN services guarantee the safety of their customers' data. Also, they usually provide plenty of useful security features and minimize the influence of VPN on internet connection speed.

Using Tor

Tor is a popular browser that allows customers to protect their online activity and increase their internet privacy and anonymity on the web. Tor is absolutely free and anyone can safely download it from the official website. For users who can’t do it downloading Tor is still available via the GetTor service. Tor looks almost like any other popular browser that’s why it’s easy to use it. There are versions of the Tor browser for all popular platforms and devices.

Let’s see how Tor anonymizes your traffic and blocks ISP tracking. Tor encrypts and sends your traffic through three randomly-chosen servers (aka relays) in the Tor network. The last server which routes the traffic to the public internet may be located in any country in the world. So don't be surprised if some web service greets you in a foreign language when you use Tor. By looking at your IP address, these services try to guesstimate where you live and what language you speak.

Also, Tor uses multi-layer encryption also known as onion routing. This technology allows encapsulating messages with several layers of encryption and protecting your internet activity from ISP surveillance.

Despite all advantages, Tor has some weaknesses:

  1. Slows down connection speed. It’s a pity but Tor significantly slows down connection speed. Due to the fact that the Tor network is spreading all over the world data packets need more time to be transmitted. Using Tor is not suitable for streaming, playing video games, and downloading large files.
  2. Associated with suspicious activities. Only with Tor, it’s possible to get access to DarkNet. That’s why Tor traffic is totally prohibited in some countries. In other regions, the government might closely monitor Tor users and suspect them of some illegal activities.
  3. You might be blocked. Due to widespread illegal use, network administrators, some websites, and web services track and block Tor traffic.

Using secure proxy

A proxy server acts like an intermediary between your device and the internet. Proxies mask the user’s IP address, that’s why using them helps to bypass geo-blocking. But talking about privacy, there is a pitfall: as long as connections to a proxy are unencrypted, ISPs still can see what you are doing online. Only secure proxies (those that support incoming HTTPS connections) can help you to hide your online activity and prevent your ISP from tracking you.

Can an ISP block a VPN connection?

It’s not hard for an ISP, if it really pursues that goal, to guess that its client uses a VPN and to prevent them from doing that, at least temporarily, until a VPN provider reacts. ISPs have a number of options to use:

  • IP address or subnet blocking
  • Domain name blocking
  • Protocol or port blocking

We at AdGuard are doing our best to provide uninterrupted service for all our clients, though accidental events of blocking are inevitable.

FAQ

Can my ISP track my online activity?

Yes, your ISP can monitor some aspects of your online activity, amongst which the most important are all visited domain names.

Can ISP track you while you’re using incognito mode?

Incognito mode deletes all cookies after each session and doesn't allow your browser to save your browsing history. This mode doesn’t prevent your ISP from tracking your internet activity.

Is it possible to check if an ISP is tracking me?

Some countries contain regulations, such as GDPR in Europe, that obliges companies to notify about what users’ data are collected and how they are used. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to check if policies match reality.

How do I stop my ISP from tracking me?

The only way to stop ISP from tracking is to encrypt all traffic that passes through your ISP and to avoid unencrypted DNS. You can do this by using VPN or Tor browser and software that provides secure DNS capabilities, for instance AdGuard Ad Blocker.

Does VPN help to stop ISP tracking?

VPN is the most effective and convenient way to stop your ISP from tracking. VPN encrypts your internet traffic and makes it completely unreadable to your VPN provider.

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