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You know some of the online habits you have are being tracked. Ever wondered if your phone company can see what you search on the internet?
Phone companies, otherwise known as ISPs (Internet Service Providers), can see your search history. They can track all your online activity including what you are searching, the websites you are accessing, the videos you are watching on YouTube, for example, your location, your device, and more.
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Perhaps the thought of phone companies accessing search information is somewhat worrisome. In fact, any company that provides an internet connection has access to everything you do online. This does not mean they are actually looking at what each individual is searching.
There are 4,72 billion internet users in the world today. That makes it impossible for every phone company to examine each person’s search history. This begs the question: What do phone companies do with search histories? I’ll talk about some of these here.
Firstly, phone companies often use people’s search history to target them for marketing purposes. Online activity is all linked, for example, when someone searches for something using Google’s search engine Facebook will display ads related to that search.
This is just one of the many ways that phone companies use your search history. If the webpage does not contain HTTPS then the internet service provider can see everything. HTTPS websites encrypt user’s information so that phone companies can only see what you are searching for but not the specifics.
Another alarming fact is that some companies can sell the data they collect to data brokers based on people’s search history. This information can be used to analyze more than most of us imagine.
These datasets can be used to develop a profile about individuals that companies can use to analyze and predict behavior. They use algorithms to do this. Such information may include predicting people’s professional traits, who might commit crimes or who will stop taking their medicine, for example.
This is especially true for users who access the internet through a proxy server. These allow individuals to obtain an IP (Internet Protocol) address to do so. An ISP provides an IP address to the router. Meaning they have direct access to all online activity.
Your ISP can track every website that you visit and every detail about your search. There are employable techniques that are used to protect online information.
One way is enabling privacy mode in the browser. This simply prevents companies from snooping around in an individual’s browsing history.
Some computers have a “do not track” mode that tries to prevent companies from accessing your search history. It also works by preventing websites from enabling cookies or other processes employed to track data.
Often, websites give you the chance to deny cookies when browsing the internet and visiting sites. It is the act of accepting cookies that information falls prey to data collecting and selling companies for marketing gains.
It’s no wonder our Instagram feeds tend to pop up with very appealing ads. It’s less of a coincidence that my search history this morning relating to which pet insurance to consider led to a bunch of options displayed on my Facebook feed.
Maybe this is a little creepy. Again, these platforms recognize our unwillingness to share our information and put things in place. For one, ad topics can be hidden and personal information restricted from Facebook settings.
Instagram also has such features. It is not fate that every second feed on Instagram stories is ads related to internet search histories that are linked to these platforms to predict users’ interests. Instagram actually offers a function called “Opt out of Ads personalization”.
Limiting ISPs to search history is possible, but techniques like these still do not completely protect data like this from companies and regardless of these, phone companies can still track every move online.
Most individuals cannot imagine going a day without access to search engines like Google. After all, how else would we know what temperature to bake an apple pie at? What about research regarding a health condition? Who would be interested in using such information and for what reasons?
Life insurance companies are using individual’s online data profiles to predict their client’s risk for illnesses, financial status, and education. This sort of information may actually be used to determine insurance premiums. Not only for health insurance but other fields too.
Individual’s credit scores may also be predicted by their online data profile. Analytics and algorithms can use your search history to access information such as affordability, types of online purchases and the amounts of these purchases, and so on.
When you apply online for a job, companies can use your data profile to predict character traits such as how professional and reliable you are, and even what your job turnover looks like.
Information like this could disadvantage you and is sometimes taken up in the wrong context.
For example, companies see a recent resignation but not the valid reason behind it.
Geotagging is another area of concern. Companies can track people’s whereabouts without their awareness.
Apart from having a VPN (Virtual Private Network) there are steps that one can take to alter their online presence. An online data profile is built on search history so if it is more carefully thought out, it can be less private.
The key is to keep it professional. The first step is to make sure all social media profiles line up. Avoid posting contradictive content or showing risky behavior. The second step involves checking through all photos posted online. These should be clean and uncensored.
Finally, deleting cookies and adjusting privacy settings can help reduce companies’ access to your online data profile.
What does incognito mean? Simply put, opening your browser in this mode is aimed at hiding online activity and browser history such as limiting cookies. It is a misconception that incognito mode or private browsing is completely safe.
So, who can see your search history? Incognito mode can protect individuals from platforms like Facebook from accessing their search history.
The trick is that websites that you browse in privacy mode can track your information. Additionally, they can still access geotagging.
Ultimately, your ISP can still see all your activity regardless of incognito mode or not. Google, for example, states that incognito mode doesn’t protect individuals from being tracked. The only difference is that browsing history is not saved.
So it comes down to the fact that your ISP still provides an IP address that can be tracked. With that being said, they can still see all your search history. Incognito mode also does not protect people from system administrators. They can still track your online activity.
Finally, individuals must be aware of their internet activity, regardless of private browsing mode. The best thing to do is avoid online searches that may impact your data profile using the tips I discussed earlier.
The only way to keep companies from accessing and creating an online data profile from your browsing history is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Unlike all the other efforts discussed in this article, VPNs work by encrypting your data. So companies and websites can no longer track search history or your IP address.