Back to news

Can My ISP Track Me on HTTPS Websites?

June 5, 2018    |    Company News    |    Lauren Elkins

ISP Tracking Still Happens — Even When You Think It Doesn’t

Have you ever read 1984 by George Orwell? Or heard the quote “Big Brother is watching you”? The premise is that actions and intentions are being monitored at all times — so you better watch yourself! It’s creepy to read about, but even more disturbing to realize that your ISP has a lot of the same monitoring power as a totalitarian state. Everything you do online goes through your ISP, and if you don’t understand the scope of their access, you won’t know how to shield your information.

A lot of people wonder, “Can my ISP track me on HTTPS websites?” And the answer is: Yes. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can still see what you’re up to online even when you’re on HTTPS encrypted sites.

Think of your ISP like your mail carrier. It’s their job to deliver your letters, magazines, and packages. Our website, similarly, is sending you a letter containing this reply, displaying the text and images on the site. You pay the mail carrier for sending and receiving your packages. If you spend a higher amount, you get packages within two days, or overnight. The more you pay, the faster packages move.

HTTPS encrypts the package’s contents. Your carrier can’t see what’s inside the boxes or envelopes. You might compare it to using security envelopes when mailing sensitive information. However, your carrier still needs to know that it’s coming from you and going to the recipient. You can’t encrypt this information, or it will end up in the unknown bin. This means your carrier is able to track who you’re exchanging packages with, whether it’s this blog, Facebook, your bank website, or Netflix.

Can My Internet Provider See What I Download?

The short answer is that your ISP doesn’t necessarily look at the contents of your download, but they do see where you are downloading from and the size of the download — and they can draw a lot of conclusions from there.

In general, Internet Service Providers don’t care so much about what you’re downloading — instead, they care how much bandwidth you're using up, and whether or not it’s impacting their other users. For that reason, many ISPs will slow down your connection if they see you're using something that takes a lot of bandwidth. They don't necessarily look at the contents of your downloads, but they will check the kind of traffic that is using bandwidth. They will know how much of your bandwidth goes to email, video chat, streaming, gaming, etc. But ultimately all they care about is whether or not you’re slowing down their network.

However, even though ISP’s don’t necessarily go out of their way to look at the contents of what you do online — they could if they really wanted to. If you visit and use unencrypted websites (HTTP rather than HTTPS) your ISP can see the exact sites you visit, your username and password, and even your financial information. If you use an unencrypted email service, your ISP can see the content of your emails. Sure, ISP tracking might be unlikely, but it isn’t impossible — and you would have no way of knowing if they did check your private information.

This isn’t just something that would only bother a criminal: any person who wants their private information to be kept private has every right to be bothered by this. So what can be done?

Does a SSL Hide Me From My ISP?

A VPN built on the OpenVPN protocol, which uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security), is the best way to keep your online data private from ISP tracking. A VPN that uses this protocol can create secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections, and it uses digital certificates to authenticate data. This is the protocol used by Private Tunnel.

Now think back to the mail carrier example — here’s what the correct VPN does to protect you from the “carrier”:

When you route your internet traffic through a VPN, your ISP is no longer able to track the specifics of your browsing. It only sees that you are exchanging packages with the VPN server. Think of it like using a neighbor to send your mail. Everything you send out is addressed to them. They send it on. The mail carrier only deals with the delivery to the neighbors. Then, when a package returns, the carrier takes it to a neighbor without knowing it will continue on to your door. With a VPN, your ISP has no clue if you’re visiting Facebook, a banking site, Netflix, your competitor’s sites, gaming sites, etc.

You don’t have to be okay with your ISP tracking you and having almost unlimited access to your private information. Your privacy matters and you have every right to take your privacy into your own hands. Private Tunnel is an excellent option for you to shield your online data and activity — and we offer a free 7-day trial so you can test it out without even having to enter your information. We are here to make sure that your data is only shared when you choose to share it!

Better Safe Than Sorry