With all the news about security breaches, you’ve probably wondered if you’re doing enough to protect your data. Maybe you’ve tried using strong passwords, clearing your search history, and visiting websites in private mode. But despite these precautions, your browsing data is still easily accessible. Here’s what you need to know about who is accessing your browsing data, how they are using it, and what you can do to secure your data.
Who Can See Your Browsing Data
While there are many steps you can take to protect your privacy online, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can still track your browsing data. You can hide your browser history from other people with access to your computer by using incognito mode. However, this ultimately isn’t an effective way to keep your browsing history private. Any websites, including the ones you view in private mode, can still be tracked to you through your IP address.
The IP address is a unique identifier that reveals who you are, what network you’re connecting from, and where you’re located. While viewing sites in private mode will prevent them from being added to your browser history, the IP address can still be tied back to you. This means that the websites you visit still have a way to identify you. If you have done nothing to protect your privacy the following parties are most likely able to see everything you do:
- Operating systems (like Windows)
- Search engines
- Social networking websites
- (wifi-)network administrators (perhaps your boss)
- All websites you visit
As you can see there are a lot of parties that can track your browser data even if you are using incognito mode. If you are working on a company computer, your employer will be able to track your online activity. Most employees are given a login to access their work computer and network. Many companies keep a log of each user’s computer activity. In addition to your work email and projects, they can keep track of your browser history.
How Your Browsing Data Can Be Used
At this point you’re probably wondering how your ISP uses your browsing data. Most commonly, they sell this data to advertisers. How does your data help advertisers? By looking at your browsing history, your ISP can learn about your health concerns, your political views, where you shop, and when you are online. ISPs often claim this data does not count as sensitive information. They say it helps to provide more personalized advertising for users.
Your browsing data can also be viewed by government agencies such as police departments. If a government agency presents your ISP with a subpoena, they are required by law to share any information they have about you. This can have dangerous consequences for people who live under oppressive governments that frequently monitor the activity of their citizens.
It’s also important to remember that data breaches are a common occurrence nowadays, and they can affect ISPs as well. Your browser history can easily be compromised in the event of a data breach. For this reason you should take additional precautions to protect it.
How To Limit Access to Your Data
To stay completely anonymous when you are browsing you can read our extended article on the topic. Below you can find two of the most effective ways to limit access to your data: a Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and the Tor Browser. Below you can find out how these measures can safeguard your personal information.
Securing Your Browsing Data With a VPN
Companies employ remote workers might use a VPN that can provide a secure connection to the company’s network. If you are using a company VPN, your employer can view your browsing history but the ISP cannot. It’s also possible for individuals to purchase a VPN for their own personal use. These personal VPNs let you encrypt your browsing data, which prevents it from being tracked by your ISP. In addition, you can use your VPN to protect your data when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network.
A VPN server has its own IP address, which conceals your personal IP and helps you to be anonymous online. The VPN’s IP address is not linked to you. This means governments, ISPs, and websites are unable to track your activity.
It’s important to understand that while using a VPN makes it difficult for your ISP to track your data, this method is not perfect. You also need to make sure that you do your research and pick a reputable VPN provider. Some VPN providers track your data and sell it to advertisers. Always make sure your provider is not one of them. This practice is particularly prevalent amongst free VPN providers, as selling your data is often their main source of income. Make sure to select a VPN provider that has a zero logs policy, which means they won’t record your online activities.
Securing Your Browsing Data With Tor
The Tor Browser conceals your browsing history by encrypting your online activity and sending your data through a network of Tor servers. This makes it very difficult to trace the activity back to you. For example, if a government agency tries to track your online activity, they will be led to different servers instead of your computer. There are other anonymous browsers available, but Tor remains the most popular one. An important downside to Tor is that it only works for programs that use browsers to access the internet. For instance, you cannot secure services like WhatsApp and Skype with the Tor Browser.
Another option for protecting your privacy online is a proxy server. When you request information through a proxy server, any websites you visit will only see the proxy server’s IP address instead of your own. Be aware, however, that a proxy server does not encrypt your connection. It will not secure your data as effectively as a VPN.
Despite taking precautions to keep your search history private, your browsing data can be easily accessed by ISPs, employers, and government agencies. ISPs regularly monitor your online behavior. They see everything from the sites you visit to your Google searches. All your personal data is left vulnerable to hackers and security breaches.
While no method of browsing the internet is 100% secure, using a VPN server or an anonymous browser such as Tor are the best ways you can keep your data safe. While they do not make it impossible for other parties to access your information, they are the most effective options for protecting your browsing history and keeping yourself safe online.