Pagoda Blog

Your Web Browser and ISP Know You Better Than You Think

August 3, 2017

Both your web browser and Internet Service Provider (ISP) are actively gathering data when you go online. They’re tracking information like the websites you visit, how long you stay on each page, where you’re logging in from, and what type of device you’re using. Even if you’re an upstanding citizen with a clean record and nothing to hide, the extent to which companies like Google and Comcast are monitoring our online activity warrants some healthy skepticism around their intentions. 


Here’s what you need to know about the monitoring capability of your web browser and ISP and what you can do about it.


My web browser knows what??

Every time you connect to the internet, your web browser starts keeping track of every click, where your mouse hovers, and your online searches. It knows your approximate location (without asking for access to your GPS), what type of laptop you’re using and which operating system you have installed. It knows the status of your battery and which social media sites you’re logged into. It can even tell whether or not your laptop is sitting on a table.


How to throw Chrome and Safari off your digital scent

This level of familiarity with your online activity is disconcerting to say the least, but fortunately there are ways to prevent web browsers like Google Chrome and Safari from accessing so much of your information. Webkay, for example, demonstrates some of the data your web browser can detect and how to prevent it.


Google is notorious for tracking everything you do online but you can limit their access to your information. For specific instructions on how to increase your privacy settings with Chrome, check out this post on You can also ask websites not to track you when using other web browsers, such as Safari and Firefox, and you can follow these steps to delete your Google search history. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to throw your Internet Service Provider (ISP) off your digital scent.


ISPs get the green light to sell our online habits

Back in March of this year, Congress voted to repeal a law that prevented ISPs from selling your data without your permission. Now, there’s nothing stopping providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from sharing your online habits with advertisers for a nice profit, without your consent.  


ISPs have access to your web visits, clicks, searches, app downloads and video streams which can reveal everything from your clothing brand preferences to personal health concerns. If allowing corporations to sell your information to third-parties, such as your healthcare provider, makes you uneasy, then read on for tips on maintaining your online privacy.


Choose your ISP wisely

There are ISPs that value your privacy over profit, such as Sonic, Etheric Networks, and our very own local service provider, Cruzio Internet. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with multiple ISP options, then choose one that protects your data. For those who are limited to the bigger players, like Comcast, you’ll need to take a different approach.


Opt out of selling your data

You can opt-out of sharing your data. Both AT&T and Comcast have opt-out options, and by reviewing these options you can gain a better understanding of exactly how your ISP is tracking your online activity. For example, you can manage your cookies to limit the data they collect, opt-out of online behavioral advertising, exclude your data from their external marketing and analytics reports, and decline to share your mobile device location with a third-party. Contact your ISP for opt-out info if it’s not readily available on their website.


Invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN provides an encrypted connection between your computer and a private server located in a separate location, allowing you to securely connect to a network, such as a public internet connection, without allowing your ISP to monitor your activity. VPNs are often used by remote workers to ensure their laptop is secure when accessing the company network from an outside server. It prevents your ISP from accessing your browser history, but your employer may still be able to see what sites you visit.


A secure VPN can obscure your data when using public Wi-Fi, allow you to securely connect to your company’s remote network, and even protect you from malware, but it doesn’t ensure total privacy. For one thing, whatever VPN you choose has access to your data and it can be hard to know what it’s doing with it. Essentially, you’re shifting your data from your ISP to a VPN, so it’s up to you to make sure that you trust whatever VPN you choose more than you trust your ISP.


Paid VPN services are typically more reliable than their free counterparts or, better yet, set up your own if you have the technical capability. Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology puts it this way in a tech piece for The Verge, “If it doesn’t cost you anything, wow, how are they making money off of routing your bandwidth?”


Another option is Tor, a browser that keeps your location and browsing history private. Unfortunately, the software significantly slows down your internet speed by bouncing web traffic through “relays” run by thousands of volunteers around the world and requires regular updates.



The bottom line: Understand your rights  

While you can minimize what your web browser and ISP track, there’s no perfect solution. Fortunately, we don’t live under an oppressive government that might interpret innocent online activity as treason, but it’s still disconcerting to know that our online habits are being watched and documented. As we continue to become an increasingly connected world, we should all be cognizant of our privacy rights and stay up to date on what our ISPs and browsers can collect about us. If companies or the government are accessing and using our personal electronic data in ways that blur the line between innocent data tracking and hawkish surveillance, it’s crucial that we clearly redraw that line to protect our personal privacy.

Related Posts:


The Basics of Bitcoin and What it Means for Cybersecurity


The Fate of Internet Privacy Protection and Your Personal Electronic Data


How to Protect (and Grow) Your Online Presence as a Small Business  




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