Your ISP can track and store browsing data for 6 months to 2 years, depending on the area under the mandatory data retention. This data can be used for government surveillance, law enforcement, censorship and commercial purposes.
The ISP stores various browsing data types, including search queries, websites you have visited, videos watched on Youtube, app activities, and browsing history (deleted & private). This data helps ISP to track users’ activities and data usage for customer & network management.
Let’s see how the data retention period varies for different operators and countries:
How Long Does an ISP Keep Your Browsing History?
In countries like the US and UK, ISPs are legally bound to store and monitor users’ browsing data for mass surveillance. This data can be disclosed to government entities on demand. However, the time period and requirements for data retention by ISP vary according to country.
For example, in the US, the minimum period for data retention is 90 days, while in the UK, the European Units want to record it for up to 1 year. However, which type of data is retained by the ISP and for whom is kept secret, especially if government authorities use it?
Here is the data retention period by ISP for various countries:
- For 6 months – Lithuania, Sweden, Luxembourg, Malta
- For 12 months – Finland, Hungary, Ireland, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain, UK
- For 18 months – Latvia
- For 24 months – Australia, Poland
However, in some countries like Germany, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, etc., data retention by ISP is prohibited and declared unconstitutional.
Let’s see how the Data Retention Period varies by various ISPs:
|Service Provider||Data Retention Period|
|Time Warner Cable||6 months|
|DSL Extreme||2 weeks|
The IP address is not only used by the ISP to track users’ online activities but also by users to find details about their ISP, server, location, etc. You can use an online who is your ISP tool to find details about your ISP, server location, etc., using your IP address.
Why do ISPs need your browsing data?
The ISP provides internet services to users and tracks their activities by assigning an external IP address for each subscriber. You can find your ISP address and other details using this external IP. The ISP use these external IP addresses to track users browsing data for various activities, like:
- Bandwidth Throttling: By tracking a user’s data usage and activities, ISP can throttle the internet when they are engaged in restricted or high-bandwidth usage activities like Torrenting.
- Advertising or Commercial Purposes: Under the telecommunications metadata, the ISP stores the web tracking data of users. Then they classify the type of data users often consume and use this information for commercial or targeted advertisement purposes. Sometimes this data is also used by government entities for political affiliation.
- Mass Surveillance: To prevent illegal activities and cybercrime, the ISPs in many countries like the US, UK, Europe, etc., are required to monitor users’ online activities on govt requests. This type of mass surveillance is usually kept secret by ISP and government agencies.
- Censorship Enforcement: Certain types of content are restricted in most countries that promote gambling, social or political conflicts. Thus ISP needs to monitor users’ activities to ensure they don’t access such restricted content.
- Network & Customer Management: For various data plans, ISP offers different data caps. Thus by tracking your browsing activities and data usage types, ISP ensures that users stay within their data limits. Also, the browsing data helps them to understand users’ interests and requirements to pitch them their other services.
The ISP tracks various types of browsing data, including webpages and websites visited by users, their search queries, watched videos on Youtube, activities in apps, and private and deleted browsing history.
Using an encrypted VPN server is the best way to hide your online activities from ISP. The ISP uses your IP address to track your browsing data. The VPN masks your external IP address so you can browse anonymously, and your ISP cannot track you.
Yes, your ISP can still track your browsing data and activities when using an incognito or private browser. The incognito mode only helps to keep your local browsing private, so other websites cannot store or use your cookies.
Every ISP has different data retention policies that vary for countries and their laws. While storing your browsing data helps ISP to track your data usage and mass surveillance, it also has its downsides. Having your data stored somewhere on a server can lead to data breaches or cyberattacks. Thus to prevent this, you can use a reliable VPN or encrypted proxy server when required.