What is data? Cybersecurity experts talk about the risk of losing data and having it stolen when using the Internet, but what exactly is it? And why is it a significant point of discussion in cybersecurity?
Let’s put it this way: data is a collection of information about an entity, detailing their personal information, online habits, browsing history, and so on. All Internet users create data, and this paper trail of data has—over the years—become enticing to governments, corporations, and especially internet service providers (ISPs).
Why ISPs Have a Growing Interest in Your Data
Because data contains everything one would need to know about someone, that someone being a potential or existing customer, ISPs collect as much of it as possible. For them, collecting data is quite simple. Customers’ data route through their ISPs’ servers, meaning that ISPs rarely have to resort to complex solutions to collect data—it all arrives at their doorstep.
Why? Why do ISPs need customer data? For one, ISPs can use customer data to monitor their online activity and decide whether or not they can throttle their bandwidth with little repercussion.
Secondly, ISPs collect data because user data is profitable. Very profitable. Because ISPs have the ability to collect so much data, they can easily sell the data to third-party advertisers or other third-parties. This happens often. Often enough, at least, to pique the interest of the FTC.
Lastly, the practice of collecting data can be used to aid censorship movements. A prominent example of such a use would be modern-day China, where major ISPs are state-owned. ISPs can collect data and report suspicious activity or apps and websites that are being used to break censorship rules.
How You Can Prevent Your ISP from Collecting Data
Now that you’re aware of what ISPs can do with your data, it’s only natural that you’d want to protect your data. Fortunately, there are a few ways to do so, most of them being software-based. These solutions also don’t require much in terms of technical knowledge.
Use a VPN
ISPs route your data through their servers, but what if you could make your data unreadable beforehand? Well, you can!
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt the data your device sends out. So instead of your data going directly from your device to an ISP’s server, your data would go through a VPN server, then your ISP’s. This makes the data unreadable to all third-parties and ensures your data’s security. They’re easy to install, and if you download a trustworthy VPN, you won’t have to worry about data collection.
ISPs have access to your Internet history. In other words, they track what websites you visit, what you do on them, how long you spend on them, and vice versa. This is done through cookies, bits of data that your device sends and receives.
Install a Privacy-Oriented Browser
Or, if you want to make sure your data is never being collected, you could install a browser designed around privacy. Examples of such browsers would be the Tor browser, the DuckDuckGo browser and search engine, or Brave.
These browsers are designed to prioritize privacy over convenience. Disabled trackers, lack of cookies, included security software: these browsers do it all and are strongly recommended by cybersecurity experts.
Your ISP allows you to connect to the Internet without too much trouble. However, they will take advantage of your data and use it to profit or strengthen censorship measures. Whether it’s through a privacy browser or a VPN, try to limit the amount of data your ISP can get their hands on.