In today’s world one cannot fully trust anything, as more and more privacy-related cases being exposed make us glance over the shoulder for where we left our online trail. In fact, many ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have access to what you search for, and what you do on the internet. This varies from ISP to ISP (you can try to search if your own provider stores any of your information, although this will be an almost impossible task) but since they are responsible for giving you internet access, as well as for charging you for it, it is best to assume from the beginning that your online information is being retained by them.
As Your ISP I Must Know What You Access
This happens thanks to the Deep Packet Inspection which, in short, allows your ISP to control the packs of data you send all over the internet. This works mainly for your protection, as it checks for viruses or prioritizes data but it can also be a double-edged sword, as what you do online can be used against you – since ISPs can monitor the web activity to track, log and store your data.
Obviously, that data can then be used or sold to third parties, specifically under two categories: selling for advertisement purposes, or stored due to government retention laws. The first one is not uncommon, as it is considered as a general good-practice all over the world where your online trail, either at the websites you visit, at the videos you watched, by the searches you’ve made is recorded, which can be sold to a third party for advertisement purposes. This is done via the cookies which each website uses. Although many browsers and even websites let you delete your history or block cookies (but don’t let you eat them unfortunately), there are also cases like the one coming from the American ISP Verizon, which in 2014 was caught using permanent cookies for customer online tracking without their knowledge.
Obeying The Law
As far as government retention laws, ISPs have to mandatorily follow the law but this will, obviously, vary from country to country. For example, Australian ISPs have to collect and save information for a period of 2 years, while Canadian ones are forced to do it for 6 months. Despite the US not having a similar mandatory data saving time as the aforementioned, there are certain bills though, that can request access to any online information if ordered by court. This will happen mainly (but not only) for the cases of torrenting and illegal file sharing that can get you heavy monetary fines, jail sentences, and permanent bans from ISPs – depending on the country and legislation in charge.
Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
To avoid all this mess and assure that you have access to whatever content you intend to, it is definitely better for you to invest in a VPN. Although some providers give you a full access free account, most will require a paid-subscription for a more complete service. IPVanish, SaferVPN and PureVPN are our podium contestants for editor choice of 2016, and any of them will give you ISP protection. The thing with VPNs is that besides making impossible for location tracking, your traffic is hidden and encrypted even for your ISP since the only information they will get is that you are connected to a VPN server. Also, many VPN providers promote themselves as no-log companies. Therefore, your online activity is anonymous for them as well.
VPNs are also useful for torrenting purposes as the vast majority of providers have dedicated P2P servers providing unlimited bandwidth as well. This bandwidth feature is more important as it may seem, since it is another area that can be controlled by your ISP to limit your moves when it comes to streaming or playing online games, for instance.
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