Can Your ISP See Your Browsing History? - Protect Your Privacy

Can Your ISP See Your Browsing History?

isp browsing history

Internet browsing has become an instrumental part of our daily lives. We seek answers to mundane questions and indulge in stuff that we’d rather keep to ourselves, so it’s only natural to want to know whether or not internet service providers monitor our browsing activity. Most people already know that their internet activity is monitored up to some point. However, exactly how deep this monitoring goes or whether or not you can stop it is somewhat obscure .

Knowing what kind of data your ISP can access and what they use it for can help you stay safe while you browse the web. Dig in to find out more about ISP tracking and how you can restrict monitoring using a virtual private network (VPN).

How ISPs Monitor Web Traffic

ISPs use various methods to track your web activity. Deep packet inspection (DPI) analyses data packets sent and received by your device. Through DPI monitoring, your internet service provider can see the websites you enter, the web content you look at, and the files you download.

Yet another common monitoring strategy uses tracking cookies to collect information about your browsing activity. Cookies are pieces of code that are embedded in your browser when you visit a website and can be used by an ISP to track your internet activity.

For the most part, tracking cookies are nothing to fret about. They usually store things like your login details or keep track of your shopping cart items. However, this usefulness can be leveraged to collect your activity and target you with personalized advertisements.

Why do ISPs monitor web traffic?

Your ISP tracks your online activity for many reasons, chief amongst them being network management. When they monitor your activity, they can find out issues with their network performance as they arise. Your information can also be used to make a profit, such as for target advertisement or its sell it to third parties. Then again, some states require ISPs to monitor all web traffic for national security and law enforcement reasons. Here are some reasons for ISP monitoring:

Data Collection

For safety reasons, ISPs in most parts of the world are required to track their customers’ online activity. Governments often use customer information in criminal investigations. The core narrative behind the monitoring is anti-terrorism and crime prevention, but this goes on to violate the privacy of ordinary internet users. Journalists and other important figures are more likely to feel the sting of this violation.

Data Retention

Some laws require ISPs to retain user data and monitor browser data for a specified period. The most common rationale behind this is anti-terrorism and finding criminals. However, this loose rationale can be used to track and monitor journalists and whistleblowers that carry sensitive information. Without the right tools, life can get very complicated for such individuals.

Selling Data

ISPs are in a place to collect a lot of important information about you and your browsing habits. This information is a gold mine for advertisers, who use this data to send you personalized ads. In the United States and many other countries, it is not illegal for internet service providers to sell user data to advertisers.

Bandwidth Throttling

ISPs the world over are known to offer unlimited plans but then slow networks to infuriating download speeds. This is referred to as bandwidth throttling. This is sometimes a necessary move to reduce congestion on the network. It is common for ISPs to slow down your connection to specific websites or when you choose competitor content.

P2P monitoring

In countries where P2P file sharing is against the law, ISPs are required to monitor web activity and identify P2P connections. This is done by simply looking for connections such as torrents. When they identify violators, they send the data to copyright agencies that can then impose fines or other legal measures.

What Data Can ISPs see?

As soon as you connect to the internet, your ISP can view the websites that you enter, the apps you use, and the amount of data you transfer. They can also keep track of your location. So what’s the big deal when you are not doing anything illegal? The big deal is that the information can be used to create a profile of you, which can be sold to third parties. Amongst other things, the information can be used to send you targeted advertisements.

ISP tracking impacts the privacy of almost all your online data. When you’re not using a VPN, your ISP can track and record, among other things, your email communications, geo-location data, web browsing history, and crypto transactions.

How VPNs Can Help Restrict ISP Monitoring

Virtual private networks, (VPNs) are an effective way to keep your browsing activity private, and even beyond the reach of your ISP. When you install a VPN app or plugin, all of your devices’ internet traffic is encrypted. Your connection is routed through an intermediary server in any location of your choice in the world.

As long as your VPN is active, your sneaky ISP cannot see what websites you visit, which apps you use, or the contents you view on the internet. As such you can surf the web privately without the possibility of disruptive ads.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network is a useful tool to hide your IP address and prevent ISP tracking. When you install a VPN on your device, you can choose a secure server in a location of your choosing. As soon as the VPN establishes a connection, all your traffic is passed through an encrypted tunnel. Once your data is encrypted, it becomes unreadable by third parties.

When you make use of a VPN like NordVPN, your IP address is also hidden from third parties. Connect to any server of your choice and your real IP address is replaced with another one in the location of the server.

Can a VPN service prevent ISP tracking? The answer is a big yes. Encrypting your browsing data is the primary function of a VPN. It does this by concealing the details of your browsing activity.

Here’s how to hide your online activity from your ISP with a VPN:

  1. Sign up for a VPN, ExpressVPN is a good one to start with.
  2. Download and install the VPN you chose.
  3. Launch the app and pick a server location.
  4. Click the Connect button
  5. Wait for the connection to complete.

Do this and your connection is 100% safe from prying eyes.

Can an ISP block a VPN?

Unfortunately, yes, an ISP can block IP addresses linked to a VPN provider. This means that you won’t be able to connect to the internet on that particular server. If this happens, you can solve it by switching to another server, port, or protocol. After doing this, your internet connection should be restored.

Find the Best VPN For Preventing Your ISP from Tracking You

Our team at TechShielder is well-versed in different service providers’ strongest points. We gathered the top VPN providers worth trying out. These offer strong encryption, and ultra-fast speeds and allow you to use their services on multiple devices.

If you’re like most internet users, you have an inherent dislike for nosy ISPs even when you’re doing nothing wrong. Even worse, not knowing exactly how deep this intrusion goes makes it more unsettling. Hopefully from our in-depth guide, you have learned a thing or two, and are ready to take your privacy more seriously.

As you might have figured out, installing a VPN is the single most effective way to keep your browsing activity 100% private. Pick any one of our recommended VPN providers from our list of the best VPNs to stay secure.


Can my ISP see my Google searches?

Fortunately, your ISP cannot see the details of your Google queries. This is because Google uses HTTPS on all of its web services, meaning that your searches are encrypted with SSL. Your ISP can only see that you are visiting Google, but the specific details of your queries are hidden from them.

Can my ISP see my VPN?

Yes, there is a chance that your internet service provider will figure out that the server you are on belongs to a VPN. But this is not that much of a concern because VPNs are 100% legal in most parts of the world. Even after the ISP figures out that you are using a VPN, they still cannot view the contents of your internet traffic.

Can my ISP monitor my activity in incognito mode?

The short answer is yes. Incognito mode cannot and is not meant to prevent ISP monitoring. This also goes for other private browsing modes built into web browsers. These are only designed to prevent the websites you visit from identifying you with cookies. Even while incognito your ISP can still see your browsing activity.

How can I tell if my ISP is tracking me?

Your service provider is always tracking you to a certain degree. The level of monitoring will differ between individual ISPs and jurisdictions. Just to be sure, you can check out your provider’s privacy policy and terms of service.

What data do ISPs track?

All the data that is not encrypted can be tracked by your internet service providers, and they are always on the lookout for these loopholes. This can include things like your browsing history, purchases, downloads, location, and streams.

What can my ISP do with my data?

That’s the scary part. Your internet service provider can use your online browsing data for various purposes. Some are nothing to care about, like diagnostics, marketing, and analytics. But your ISP can sell this data to third parties within legal bounds. User data can even be given to intelligence agencies, private investigators, or law enforcement.