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What Is ISP Tracking and How Can You Prevent It?

ISP Tracking
You probably like to think that your ISP doesn’t bother keeping track of every single thing you do online, and that they respect your privacy. It’s a nice thought, but the reality is completely different, and far more scary.

What Is ISP Tracking?

ISP tracking is the practice through which ISPs record information about your online connections and activities. That means that everything from your search history to your email conversations are monitored and logged by your Internet service provider.

This shouldn’t be that surprising given that all your Internet activity is done via your ISP, making it very difficult for you to hide anything from them. ISPs can log connection data whether you’re using your home computer, gaming console, or your mobile device.

Why Is Your ISP Tracking You?

There are 4 main reasons why ISPs do this:

1. Data Retention

In many parts of the world, ISPs are required by law to hold on to their customers’ Internet data for a certain period of time. This is to give government security organizations access the information if it is needed in an investigation.

While that is important when we consider things like anti-terrorism and preventing/solving crimes, it also means that many journalists or whistleblowers are unable to retain their anonymity.

What’s more, government surveillance agencies can’t always be expected to act in an ethical manner. The sad reality is that, in an age of unprecedented global surveillance, it is highly likely that many ordinary citizens are being monitored for no good reason.

After all, Edward Snowden’s leak of secret files revealed the extent of government surveillance worldwide. The NSA, working with governments around the world, has been carrying out mass surveillance of citizens in the US and beyond. They used a number of ways to access private Internet data from millions of people, but one of their key methods was requesting information directly from ISPs.

2. Selling Data

Internet service providers can make a lot of profit selling data they have collected to advertising companies. These companies can then use complex algorithms and targeted advertising to carry out a thorough analysis of your buying habits and Internet browsing habits to find more effective – but highly intrusive – ways to market to you.

Personal Data

While that sounds extremely illegal, it’s an “acceptable” practice in certain countries. In the US, for example, ISPs received approval to sell user data to advertisers when Congress repealed the FCC’s broadband privacy protections. While this might not be allowed in other countries, there’s no guarantee ISPs don’t do behind-the-scenes deals with advertisers, which we don’t know about.

3. Bandwidth Throttling

While not all ISPs do this, some of them might rely on user connection data to enforce bandwidth throttling – the intentional slowing down of user speeds.

They might claim they do that to decrease network congestion and to offer better services, but the truth is most ISPs use bandwidth throttling as a way to “convince” users to either upgrade to a pricier subscription or just pay for a bigger, more expensive data plan.

4. P2P Monitoring

File-sharing isn’t legal in all countries, and in places with strict copyright regulations, ISPs need to monitor their users’ connections to make sure they don’t engage in torrenting.

If they catch you downloading torrents, they will likely send you a warning notice. That’s the best case scenario, since there’s a chance your ISP might hand over your data to copyright agencies, which will then flood you with DMCA notices. Even worse, they might have you pay huge fines, or have you end up in court too.

As a clear disclaimer, we here at CactusVPN don’t encourage illegal piracy and copyright infringement. However, we do realize that, for many people worldwide, torrenting is the only way they can get access to the various files they need – be them for work or school.

Why Should You Care?

It’s pretty obvious – because your privacy is in danger. Nothing you do online is just between you and your browser – there’s always somebody keeping an eye on things. Besides just being a huge invasion of your privacy, it also feels rather creepy, wouldn’t you say so?

Not to mention you’ll start getting bombarded with “personalized” ads.

Maybe some of you don’t mind that, but you have to agree that having your online behavior tracked by advertisers just feel plain wrong. What’s more, if you download torrents, you might end up in legal trouble, and if you spend hours gaming, downloading, or streaming, your bandwidth might be throttled.

Besides that, whenever you’ll be traveling abroad and using the Internet through WiFi networks instead of your own data plan, foreign ISPs will get access to your personal data too. Yes, that pretty much means that if you vacation in the US and use WiFi there, your personal information will be logged by one of their ISPs and sold off to the highest bidder.

What Data Can Your ISP See?

All your Internet traffic passes through your ISP, meaning they can see pretty much anything you do online – especially if the websites you access are unencrypted (use HTTP instead of HTTPS).

Here’s a list of the kinds of things your ISP can see:

  • Your online searches
  • Unencrypted email conversations
  • Social media data
  • Passwords and form information you have typed into an unencrypted website
  • Which websites you access
  • Any files/torrents you download
  • Cryptocurrency transactions
  • Your geo-location when using a mobile device

How to Hide Your Online Activity from Your ISP

The best way to stop ISP tracking is to encrypt your online traffic. This way, when an ISP tries to monitor what you do online, they’ll only see gibberish. They will know that you are using encryption, but nothing else.


To achieve that you can either use Tor (The Onion Router) or a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

Using a VPN

A VPN is a service you can use to fully encrypt your online traffic. Essentially, the traffic between your device and the VPN server is completely secure, and nobody can keep tabs on it.

What’s more, a VPN hides your real IP address, and replaces it with the its servers’ own addresses. While your ISP knows your real IP address (they assign it to you, after all), this will make sure they can’t associate it with your online activities.

Looking for a Reliable VPN to Protect Your Privacy?

CactusVPN is up to the task – we use high-end AES encryption to make sure nobody (not your ISP, government surveillance agencies, or cybercriminals) can abuse your private data. On top of that, we also outfitted our high-speed servers with shared IP technology to make it near impossible for anyone to link what you do online with your geo-location.

Furthermore, we ourselves don’t store any of your connection data since we have a no-log policy, and our service features a Killswitch as well to ensure you’re never exposed even if you encounter connectivity issues.

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Using Tor

Tor is an anonymity network which encrypts your Internet traffic by bouncing it between multiple relays. While it’s relatively easy to use and free, the problem with it is that your online traffic isn’t 100% encrypted all the time.

Why? Because the exit relay – the last relay your traffic will pass through before reaching its destination – doesn’t use encryption. That means the person running the relay and their ISP can see your online traffic.


ISP tracking might have some valid uses, but – at the end of the day – it’s just a huge breach of your privacy. Knowing that there’s always somebody keeping an eye on what you do on the Internet is in no way comforting.

Luckily, using a VPN can help you fight back and retain some of your privacy rights by encrypting your Internet traffic to make it unreadable to ISPs and anyone else.

Posted on
Tim has been writing content and copy for a living for over 4 years, and has been covering VPN, Internet privacy, and cybersecurity topics for more than 2 years. He enjoys staying up-to-date with the latest in Internet privacy news, and helping people find new ways to secure their online rights.