Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are a vital part of the world’s online infrastructure. Whether we like it or not, virtually all of us have to go through an ISP to browse the web, stream Netflix movies and send emails.
But how private is the information you send via your Internet Service Provider? There are relevant reasons to protect browsing history from ISP. The good news is that with VPNs and other security tools, you can hide internet activity from ISP companies easily, setting your mind at rest and anyone to block ISP snooping whenever they wish.
Why would anyone want to hide internet activity from ISP?
Before we explore how to hide internet activity from ISP, we should really talk about why not giving information about your browsing habits is a good idea.
On the face of things, your Internet Service Provider seems like a neutral actor. All they do is provide bandwidth for your personal connection and funnel data where it needs to go. Right? Well, that’s not the whole story…
Behind ISP privacy regulations
In the real world, there can be a lot of good reasons to hide browser history from an ISP. For one thing, ISPs have been caught in the act of harvesting user data to sell to marketers. If you don’t want to be commodified for somebody else’s benefit, hiding your identity is a great move.
But there are more fundamental privacy issues. Your ISP is in a privileged position when it comes to tracking user activity. Just ask your ISP for your internet history and you’ll get the picture (if you are lucky).
They can tell what sites you visit, how long you spend there, whether you stream data and the kind of apps you download and use.
That’s a lot of information. And what if the government demanded that confidential information? Do you trust your ISP on privacy issues?
How to block ISP from tracking you
If you want to hide streaming or internet data from an ISP, there are two major means of doing so: Tor and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Some people choose to have both methods at their disposal, although as we’ll see, VPNs tend to be the more user-friendly of the two.
1. Using Tor to block ISP surveillance and data harvesting
Tor (or “the Onion Routing”) has become famous as a way to hide your online activity, and it’s a proven way to work around showing your internet activity to ISP snoopers.
It basically consists of a massive, interlinked global network of “relays”. These relays bounce data around continually, making it virtually impossible to track its origin or who it is attached to.
This network has to be accessed via a Tor client, which encrypts data and sends it across the grid of Onion Routers. Importantly, every packet of data is protected by multiple layers of encryption, which are “peeled off” like an onion (hence the name) as data bounces around the relays.
All of that means that users’ IP addresses remain secure and it’s very, very hard to ascertain where data originated. From an ISP’s perspective, there’s close to zero chance of tracking their users – at least when they are logged into a Tor client.
But there are some downsides. While Tor can protect browsing history from ISPs, it doesn’t work brilliantly with sites protected by CloudFlare (a sizable chunk of the web’s locations). And you can only use Tor with the Tor browser, so many web activities are excluded.
It’s great for when you want to block ISP staff from knowing where you surf, but it’s not the best solution for everyday users.
2. Protect internet activity from ISP tracking via VPNs
The alternative to Tor is using a Virtual Private Network. VPNs are a little like Tor on a smaller scale, in that they work by encrypting information using secure protocols, then wrapping this information in “tunnels” from source to target computers.
They aren’t as secure as Tor, and can be prone to DNS leakage, while some less reputable VPN providers might act like an ISP and harvest your data – so choose wisely.
However, VPNs are great for fooling ISPs. When you use a VPN, your Internet Service Provider won’t see traffic coming from your home IP address. They will just see random traffic emanating from a distant server. And because VPNs can apply to all web traffic, they are great tools to hide streaming and ensure ISP privacy if you love to download torrents.
Can I access the internet without an ISP?
By now, the question might have occurred to you – can you log onto the internet without an ISP? If so, the whole problem of shielding your online activity would be much more simple. But unfortunately, it’s just a dream. The reality is that you almost certainly can’t connect to the internet without an ISP.
Hold on though. Why “almost certainly”? That’s because there is one major exception to the rule. If you use remote wi-fi networks like the ones found in public libraries, coffee shops or airports, you won’t need to surf via an ISP. Instead of logging on via an account in your name, these networks let you access the internet without ISP involvement.
In these cases, you can use most VPNs to add an extra layer of security, and there’s no need to worry about an ISP gathering your data. So yes, you can connect to the internet without ISP playing any role. Just remember that VPNs can also harvest data – so check reviews and pick a high-quality provider.
Choose the right way
If you’re worried about ISP privacy, there’s probably a good reason. Just try to ask an ISP for internet history information and see what we mean. Even though they know exactly where you’ve been, they won’t be likely to tell you.
So why trust these organizations? Instead of changing the way you browse, hide your browser history from ISP snoopers with a VPN, Tor or wi-fi networks.