What your ISP sees when you use VPN

Why you can trust a VPN

When you go online, you need an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Whether they’re home Wi-Fi or cellular providers, ISPs can potentially see a lot of what you do online. They can see every site you visit, how long you’re visiting for, the model of your device, and much more. To keep your online activity private and hide it from ISPs, the easiest solution is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Can ISPs see VPN connections?

Yes, ISPs can see that you are connecting with a VPN. However, while you’re on a VPN, they can see far less of your traffic. This is because VPNs encrypt your traffic, making it appear to ISPs as gibberish.

What does your ISP see when you’re using a VPN?

In short, not much. The only thing ISPs can see is the information about your VPN server. Here’s a full list of how information appears to ISPs with and without VPN:

Without VPNWith VPN
DownloadsDownload site, file sizeHidden
Browsing historyAll URLsHidden
Time you spend on a web pageTimestamp with each URLHidden
Your locationTraced via IP addressOnly VPN server IP
Times you connectFull informationOnly to VPN server
Data and bandwidth consumptionFull informationOnly to VPN server
TorrentingYour IP addressHidden
StreamingService and durationHidden
Connecting port Full port infoOnly to VPN server

From this list, you can see how a VPN hides and scrambles anything that could be used to track your online habits.

Read more: What does a VPN hide?

Why does the ISP still see some information?

The internet works by sending traffic from one server to another. To get online, you need to have some server as a starting point. It’s unavoidable for your ISP to see that hop to the VPN server. However, each VPN server is used by a large number of users, so server information is common knowledge and provides no insight to the ISPs.

Choosing the best VPN to hide your activity from your ISP

When your traffic is encrypted, only the sender and the receiver will have the keys to unlock its contents. To anyone else, it will appear as gibberish. Almost all modern devices and services use 256-AES encryption. This standard is strong: the world’s fastest computers wouldn’t be able to break the encryption even if they had billions of years to try.

While encryption is useful for hiding your traffic from ISPs, a good VPN service makes the entire process effortless while minimizing potential privacy gaps. When choosing a VPN, be sure to review their policies towards data logging. If the VPN connection drops out, make sure that the service has a kill switch feature that stops your device from sending or receiving unsecured traffic. Here is a comparison of other features to consider when looking for a VPN.

FAQ: ISPs and VPN

Can ISPs track VPN connections?
Can ISPs see incognito browsing?
Can my ISP see what I download with VPN?
Does a VPN hide the websites you visit?
Do ISPs hate VPNs?
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Johnny 5 is the founding editor of the blog and writes about pressing technology issues. From important cat privacy stories to governments and corporations that overstep their boundaries, Johnny covers it all.