How Governments and ISPs Can Monitor Your Internet Activity?By Simon Patel
While out there are stories like one that Luke Harding shared during his TED talk about having whole paragraphs about the NSA repeatedly deleted for months before his own eyes, situations we’ve all been into, in comparison, feel like a childish trick. We mean those with internet speed suddenly decreasing or creepy ads popping up right after the product was just name-dropped during a conversation. It may seem like all fun and games until the realization of your pretty sensitive preferences and thoughts being neatly collected into a detailed profile comes to your mind.
Big brother is watching
There’s no secret in the fact that ISPs are monitoring your online activity, but they’re not the ones to discretely tell you which kind of information they pick up and keep. Like ISPs can sell your data to big corporations, they’re also likely navigated by governments’ hands as well. Governments, to say the least, are playing a notable part in that trade market and especially in profiling block.
Does your ISP spy on you?
Yes. What do we know about Internet Service Providers (ISPs)? By definition, they provide internet access for customers, serving them connections to the global web. Allegedly, to ensure a stable and reliable connection, providers are monitoring users’ activity and know your IP. The extent of their authorization is decided by local law, regulations, and policies. So there are just a few criteria known for how do ISPs monitor your internet activity:
- IP addresses are assigned to devices by the provider, to track the source and destination of data packets
- Log patterns: when you connect and disconnect from the service
- URLs and time spent on each particular site
- Data amount — transmitted and received
- Metadata, yes, the word that gain casual usage after Snowden’s leaks in 2013
The next step is sharing. Government involvement is almost inevitable, doesn’t matter whether to restrict ISPs from keeping data or enable and even make it mandatory.
That’s on data-retention laws, which require ISPs to store data for a specified period. It can be accessed by government agencies either through legal requests or as part of intelligence-gathering efforts. Does the internet provider know the websites visited? No doubt, and keeps it for later.
Legal requests are commonly known as subpoenas, warrants, and court orders. In a nutshell, they include law-abiding processes of requesting access to data due to criminal investigations, security matters, and other legal proceedings.
Information-sharing agreements set between ISPs and the government can be formal or informal, and they may be established for various reasons, such as international cooperation in law enforcement or intelligence operations. These agreements can facilitate the exchange of data between different countries, potentially bypassing domestic legal restrictions on surveillance.
On the other hand, there’re surveillance programs and national security requests. These let governments have direct or indirect access to ISPs’ networks.
Thus, the question “Can your internet provider spy on you?” has been addressed. What’s next?
As previously mentioned, the breakthrough in civilians’ recognition of government monitoring was a real event in 2013. Not just USA citizens became aware of NSA programs, but worldwide concerns skyrocketed. Snowden files revealed that monitoring is not limited to one’s government borders, it can be extended becoming an international issue. From that moment till the modern day, other similar programs were found in France (Frenchelon), Russia (SORM), China (Great Firewall), India (NETRA), Switzerland (ONYX), Israel (VERINT), and so on. Almost always they’re escorted by repressions, hyper control, and neglect of human rights.
This leads to the pressing question: how are governments able to justify the implementation of such programs?
First, they need to create a legal framework that will justify excessive surveillance. In order to quell public backlash, governments often justify these programs by emphasizing their necessity in combating various threats. Well-known examples are “Patriot Act” that followed the Twin Towers catastrophe and the so-called “Snooper’s Charter”, the Investigatory Powers Act in the United Kingdom.
Both acts were introduced in response to terrorist threats and aimed to improve national security. Governments argue that by monitoring communications and gathering intelligence, they are better equipped to prevent terrorist attacks, uncover criminal activities, and maintain national security. Because: what’s individual privacy compared to something like that, right? Data retention is just a tiny inconvenience, interception is so rare, you won’t even notice. Except for criminals, of course.
However, critics argue that this justification often serves as a smokescreen to mask the true extent of the invasiveness. The problem is there is still no solid evidence that surveillance programs are not just an abuse of power, but compel to their declared purpose. Cases like the NSA claiming contribution to the prevention of 54 cases, where only four had a chance to be proved, are just the tip of the iceberg.
The following point is government agreements with ISPs, tech, and social media companies that are set to gather various data. Intelligence-gathering efforts encompass a wide range of activities, including wiretapping, interception of electronic communications, and the use of technology to bypass encryption or other security measures. These activities may be conducted by specialized government agencies or outsourced to private contractors, sometimes operating under a veil of secrecy that makes oversight difficult.
Let’s have a look at what is really happening.
- IP address tracking. Allows governments and ISPs to identify an approximate geographic location of a device, track online activities, or, in some cases, identify the user
- Deep packet inspection (DPI). Accessing the data within the network packets, used to monitor online activities, enforce bandwidth limits, or block access to specific websites and services due to censorship based on content
- Browser fingerprinting. A technique involving the collection of information on the user’s web browser (version, plugins and etc), that creates a unique fingerprint making it possible to identify a person even while using VPN or clearing cookies
- Metadata collection and analysis. To put it simply, metadata is data description that is usually unencrypted unlike the content itself: time, date, and communication participants. It can be used to identify behavior and communicative patterns, interests, or relationships
- Social media monitoring. Public posts, profiles, and trends are looked closely after, not to mention undercover agents with fake profiles knocking in the dm’s
- Use of malware and spyware. Malicious software is used for an unauthorized recording of sensitive information. Like video and audio or accessing individual’s files, keystrokes
All that information mining is analyzed afterward for keywords, phrases, and patterns that may be of authorities’ interest by tools able to sift through vast amounts of data. In some cases, information can be even shared between different countries.
All together it makes it possible to target both individuals and groups by nationality, age, or sex. Privacy violations obviously are taking place and are threatening freedom of speech and basic human rights. Not only it leads to self-censorship and the chilling effect on the public, more and more concerned about their own safety. It almost inevitably feeds power abuse, making blackmailing and harassment of individuals based on their political beliefs, affiliations, or personal lives a common practice. These intrusions affect mostly minorities.
Civil society organizations, privacy advocates, and tech companies have been actively pushing back against excessive surveillance. Demanding legal reforms to strike a balance between the need for security and fundamental rights. Encryption technologies, secure messaging apps, and privacy-focused browsers like Sidekick have emerged as popular tools for individuals seeking to safeguard their online privacy.
In the face of this ongoing struggle between privacy and surveillance, it is essential to remain informed about the rights and the steps to protect personal information.
Vulnerable, not aidless
It’s true. No one can be completely untouchable, it’s important not to succumb to feelings of frustration and helplessness. Instead, focus on taking proactive measures to protect your privacy to the best of your abilities. How to keep your ISP from tracking you? Fortunately, you don’t need to be a cypherpunk or possess extraordinary technical skills to access effective protection tools. By staying informed, and using secure browsers, VPNs, and other privacy tools, you can take charge of your online privacy. But with ISPs — forget about Incognito mode.
While whether do internet providers check your history or not is depending on local laws, there are some basics. Connections used while you’re browsing the internet can be secure and unsecure, so-called encrypted and unencrypted. Look at the link line and check if it’s an “https://” or “http://”. S in the end is for secure. Also, there’s a padlock for your convenience symbolizing two options to save time looking for a one-letter difference. Most modern websites are straightaway establishing secure connections, but there are still a few that don’t even support one. If you are asking “Does my ISP know what websites I visit?”, in both cases, it can see the domain. What’s different in the encrypted connection?
- Specific pages, symbols written after the ‘/’, are invisible for ISP
- Certain actions like filling out the forms and searching are also out of the reach
To conceal websites and narrow monitoring ISPs’ activity more, you can use Virtual Private Network (VPN). It creates a shield concealing and limiting what can your internet provider see.
To be specific: VPN creates a tunnel between your device and its server. This tunnel encrypts all the data that passes through it, ensuring security. The VPN server assigns you a new IP address, and masks your identity and location. Making third parties challenged to identify and therefore track you. Now they see only VPN browsing the internet. It’s mostly A-ok, especially if you’re not in a country where VPN usage is illegal, such as Oman, China, Iraq, or Belarus.
VPNs also come in handy when bypassing government restrictions and censorship on specific websites.
But the right VPN is not the first to lend you a hand. The majority of free providers are as well notorious for tracking user activity or even not encrypting your traffic, bear traps. It’s not worth it, when the outcome is pretty much the same. Like it’s not enough, some of them are carrying malware. Opt for a provider with a strict no-logs policy to ensure your privacy is protected.
These trustworthy VPN providers typically offer faster speeds, enhanced security, and a wide selection of server locations, minimizing any potential decrease in browsing speed.
Domain Name System (DNS) is a fundamental component of the internet that translates human-readable domain names (www.meetsidekick.com) into IP addresses (188.8.131.52) that computers can understand. This translation process allows us to access websites using easily memorable domain names instead of having to remember numerical IP addresses. It plays a phenomenal part in matters of “Can your internet provider see your search history?”.
By default, your DNS provider is typically your ISP, which has the ability to log and monitor your DNS requests. This can potentially expose your browsing habits and online activities. In contrast, a secure DNS provider can make a significant difference in terms of privacy protection, making it harder for third parties to monitor your online activities.
Switching to a secure DNS provider can not only block unauthorized access to your DNS requests but also improve browsing speed. Additionally, it can help you bypass censorship in some cases, as governments and internet providers often employ DNS-based filtering to restrict access to specific websites or content. A trustworthy and secure DNS provider can make a real change.
Privacy-focused web browsers and search engines
There are quite a few browsers nowadays that care about users’ privacy. They will support secure connections and stop third parties from harvesting your data. That feature luckily can improve not only the internet privacy of yours but speed as well.
And try to avoid those, partnering with huge corporations like Microsoft or else, to ensure your information is really not a subject of the trade.
Search engines are also quite an idea to consider, imagine what Google Search knows about you! Better find another one, that won’t store your record. But if the question is: can your WiFi provider see what you search? The answer is still yes. Apart from storing records itself, sometimes it doesn’t prevent ISPs from monitoring.
Privacy settings on social-media
If you remember how does the government monitor the internet, you definitely have an idea about social media role in this.
Many people are deterred by not-so-user-friendly interfaces of setting on different platforms and applications. This can prevent them from taking essential privacy measures such as restricting third-party app access, controlling location sharing, and limiting ad targeting. Implementing basic internet hygiene, you know?
Don’t be hesitant to explore the settings menus of your favorite platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and adjust the privacy options to suit your preferences. By doing so, you can minimize the amount of data you share with these platforms, making it more difficult for advertisers and other entities to track and profile you. Take time to familiarize yourself with these settings and adjust them accordingly.
It is essential to keep your software and apps updated to protect against the exploitation of vulnerabilities in previous versions. In our ever-evolving digital landscape, staying up-to-date is crucial. New software releases typically include patches and enhanced security features to guard against the latest malware and viruses. These updates not only help secure your devices and data but also contribute to improved system performance.
By regularly updating your software and apps, you can ensure better stability and crash resistance for your operating system and devices. This approach to maintaining your digital environment reduces the risk of cyberattacks and safeguards your sensitive information.
Recognize. Reconsider. Repeat
In light of these facts, we have reached a new stage in the ongoing battle for online privacy: recognizing and acknowledging the problem. Internet search engines are choking on questions like “Does the government monitor Internet?” or “Can WiFi provider see your history?”. While it is crucial to address this issue individually and collectively, it is equally essential to prioritize personal security and privacy, as well as that of our loved ones. The inability to completely eliminate surveillance should not fool us into neglecting the right to privacy.
At Sidekick, we are committed to advocating the security and privacy of all users as they navigate the digital world. By that we mean respecting users and caring about sensitive information staying safe.
Yes, Sidekick browser can help reduce the risk of government monitoring and solve the problem with ISP. We prioritize your privacy and security with features providing a number of tools to prevent your information from someone else’s hands except your own. Among the list is providing a secure connection, that is encrypting data. As a result — your ISP hardly can see the actual content.
Sidekick promotes online privacy awareness by educating users on the importance of protecting their digital footprint. The browser offers built-in privacy features such as ad-blockers, tracker blockers, and fingerprinting protection to minimize data collection. Sidekick also provides information and resources on its blog, helping users make informed decisions about their internet usage and adopt additional privacy-enhancing measures.
If you are browsing in the default mode with or without the secure connection domain is always seen by the provider. But can your internet provider see what you search with an encrypted one? Hardly. To ensure ISP can’t see the websites you’re visiting use VPN, in SIdekick Teams version it’s already built-in for your tranquility.
Sidekick ensures user privacy through various measures, including a built-in ad-blocker and preventing third parties from collecting data. Advanced fingerprinting protection, encrypted browsing, and regular updates are as effective as needed. Private data like history, cookies, and passwords, are securely stored on your local device. Also, we’re always open to hearing feedback and improving our browser.
Our anti-tracking technology utilizes a range of methods to safeguard users from ISP monitoring and data collection. By blocking ads and third-party trackers, Sidekick prevents data collection and reduces the likelihood of being monitored by ISPs or other parties. Additionally, our tracker blocker restricts unwanted data sharing, while its advanced fingerprinting protection thwarts tracking attempts by making each request appear to originate from a different browser. Finally, VPN clears all doubts about whether does your internet provider track websites or not.