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How can I protect my browsing history?

By:Christine Fettinger

It is official – Internet privacy rules that would have required ISPs to get consumers’ consent before selling or sharing Web browsing data are no more. President Trump signed the legislation that killed online privacy regulation into law on April 4th.

How can I protect my browsing history?

There are ways to protect browsing history from ISPs, but it is not as easy as turning on your browser’s private or incognito mode. To completely protect your browsing history from ISPs, your internet traffic must be encrypted. The three primary methods for accomplishing this are through VPN services, Tor, and HTTPS.

VPNs encrypt all of your Web traffic and prevent others from tracing your Web history back to your IP address. The user’s IP address is replaced by the VPN provider, so an added bonus is that people can spoof their physical location and bypass content filters. VPNs allow users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. A VPN provider can see exactly what an ISP can see, but at least with VPN providers there is a lot more choice and you can find VPN providers that promise not to keep logs of your Internet activities. Subscribing to a VPN does cost money, but most are not that expensive.

Tor is another option. It is a distributed network that tries to preserve anonymity by routing Internet traffic through a series of relays. Your IP address remains hidden as your connection appears to be coming from the IP address of a Tor exit relay, which can be anywhere in the world. While Tor may be slightly more privacy preserving than a VPN, since your Internet traffic gets routed through at least three relays, Tor is slow. Streaming Netflix or other videos will be agonizingly slow on a Tor connection. Downloading the Tor browser is free though.

It should be noted that ISPs will be able to see if you are using a VPN or Tor, but that is all they can see.

HTTPS does not mask your browsing as extensively as Tor or a VPN, but if HTTPS is present in your URL bar that means your connection to a particular website is encrypted. Even if HTTPS is enabled, ISPs will be able to see the website you visited although they won’t be able to see the specific activity. For example, if you read a New York Times article, your ISP will only see you visited www.nytimes.com, but will not know what news articles you were reading. The HTTPS Everywhere browser extension provides greater protection on websites that offer limited HTTPS support.

Some people are also experimenting with creating scripts and browser extensions that fill your browser history with random searches and site visits in reaction to the repeal of the privacy rules. The reasoning is that if you fill your browsing history with junk, ISPs won’t be able to discover your real browsing habits. The challenge with this is that computers are extremely good at finding patterns, so it may not be hard to sift through the noise of the junk websites to your real history.