What Personal Data Do ISPs Collect?

3 min

It’s a question that’s probably on everybody’s mind: what does your ISP know about you?

Privacy as a fundamental right is valid in theory. However, the ground reality is different. It aligns with tuxlerVPN’s stand on the web’s hostile nature, where netizens are tracked at every juncture. And it all starts with the entity that provides us with internet access. 

By now, we know that our internet service providers (ISPs) – however big or small – collect a host of information about us. What websites we visit, how much time we’re online, and what we download – everything is recorded, collected, and often acted upon. But what exactly do they collect? And how often?

Here’s an attempt to break down ISP data collection to understand the type of personal data our ISPs collect about us.

List of Personal Data Points Collected by ISPs

We suggest you treat this list as generic because there’s no one-size-fits-all data collection template. Sure, some ISPs collect information to ensure user safety and compliance. Others go a step further and profile customers based on additional data points. But it’s wrong to assume that all ISPs collect everything or even the same data points. ISP data collection may also differ across countries.

Based on tuxlerVPN’s research, below is a list of information collected by internet service providers.

Basic Personal Information

While a part of the information that ISPs collect is personally identifiable information (PII), we have to realize that some are necessary. For example, you have to supply the following basic information to an ISP when you sign up for a broadband or optical fiber internet service.

  • Legal name
  • Residential address (location)
  • Contact number
  • Email address
  • Government-issued identity information
  • Billing information

In some cases, you may also need to provide details about total members in your family and annual income.

We can’t dub the collection of this information as an invasion of privacy. However, ISPs selling this data to third parties is still a concern. A report (pdf) by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released in 2021 suggests that this active information collection may not be necessary for user onboarding. Yet, in the US at least, it has become an industry practice to collect such information. 

Information such as ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, political leaning, and religious beliefs may also be scraped by ISPs through various passive means. 

Device Information

Another group of information that is termed necessary by many ISPs is related to your devices such as computers and smartphones. Many broadband providers request the MAC address of your primary system to authenticate subscription and usage. However, as you know, it’s no longer a requirement. Not to mention, a large section of internet users in urban areas depend on Wi-Fi routers to access the internet across devices.

Yet, when it comes to devices, ISPs collect the following key information:

  • MAC address
  • Device make and serial number
  • Operating system
  • Browser

Service Usage Information

The volume of traffic is a critical data point for ISPs for metering and billing purposes. If you’re on a limited bandwidth plan, your usage is tracked and curtailed after you reach the threshold. Again, this is a common practice among ISPs globally.

Browsing Information

This is where things get murkier. While most service providers have some sort of customer PII database, browsing information is something that ISPs enjoy free reign in. ISPs track the websites you visit, the time you spend on them (sessions), and the files you download.

Because ISPs can track and record your browsing behavior, they are also capable of blocking certain sites and throttling your speed when you visit a particular site. This highlights the need to have a strong and independent VPN that gives you access to the free web without inhibitions. If you’re someone who’s faced blocking, try tuxlerVPN.

It’s scary to think about the amount of data that ISPs collect. It’s important to discuss this rampant data collection because ISPs and telecom networks are integral to internet networking. There is no alternative to an internet subscription other than these providers. And even when you know they cultivate so much information about you, you feel helpless.

An effective solution to this problem is to use a virtual private network (VPN). While you can’t avoid entire ISP snooping, you can hide from your ISP and reduce the information you give out. Using a VPN adds an extra layer of security to your browsing activity, giving you a private space to do what you want without anyone peeking in. It’s good for starters until we collectively come up with a better solution.

BackNext article