ISP connections representation

Your internet service provider (ISP) gives you the keys to open the gates to the internet. Without them, you can wave goodbye to binge-watching your favourite Netflix shows, scrolling endlessly through Twitter, and shopping for last-minute gifts on Amazon. Think of your ISP as a chef for an all-you-can-eat buffet – once they stop cooking, there’s no internet to dig into.

But have you ever had that sixth-sense feeling of being watched? That’s likely because your ISP has eyes on you. Well, not in the literal sense, but if it can know all the sites you visit, your personal interests, the times you visit them and even potentially read the contents of your emails, it may as well be. Your online activity isn’t as private as you may want to think.

Marketing companies can harness this data to fill your browser with suspiciously timed targeted ads. Worse, if a hacker infiltrates an organisation’s system, your personal information can be used for malicious activities. An ISP serves up an endless supply of internet cuisine, but if you prefer to keep what you consume private, there’s a way to keep your online activity encrypted.

Why are ISPs tracking you?

Simply put, an internet service provider is a company that provides access to the internet. This gives them the ability to track its customers, but there’s more to it than just keeping tabs on a user.

Certain countries have strict censorship regulations restricting access to specific websites, social media and apps. Because of this, governments use ISPs to block these sites that breach censorship regulations, denying access to users attempting to reach them. ISPs are also a huge factor in data retention laws, as it allows law enforcement to investigate people of interest regarding cybercrime and criminal acts. For example, Australian telecommunication companies gave law enforcement access to the web-browsing histories of people under investigation in 2020, as reported by The Guardian.

iPhone Home Screen apps

Utilizing user data to thwart criminal activities is a good thing, but the privacy-conscious will know that having access to user’s data is a double-edged sword. It took Edward Snowden blowing the lid off the National Security Agency (NSA) getting customer data from American telecommunications company Verizon to figure out our private data can be stolen right under our noses.

Now, it’s widely known that your privacy can become a commodity with the user data an ISP can gain, as personal data can be sold off to marketing companies. A page filled will targeted ads may seem harmless (though still creepy), but if a hacker breaks into an organisation’s system, your personal information is up for grabs. This is why you see major tech brands such as Apple, Google and Microsoft pushing their anti-tracking tools, but that doesn’t entirely stop advertising companies from collecting your data.

Nobody likes to be spied on, especially if you’re being profiled by companies unbeknownst to you. There are many reasons why an ISP tracks its users, but giving away your personal data isn’t worth the risk if you’re being profiled and sold to an array of companies.

What your ISP knows about you

Your ISP may not know specific details about you, but it knows what you’re up to when surfing the internet. And no, not even a browser’s incognito mode will hide your online activities.

An ISP can gather and store user data to compile a list of information about you, which is a valuable asset for marketing companies. This includes the websites you visit and your browsing history. Looking up the best phones to buy and doing background research on the latest iPhone? Prepare for a flurry of iPhone ads popping up on web pages and apps. Knowing the sites you visit and your shopping habits goes a long way in finding out who you are.

Depending on the website you visit, an ISP can also see everything you do on it. URL addresses using HTTP instead of HTTPS (e.g. https://www.reviewsfire.com) allow an ISP to know your login details, like a username and password, and even banking information. Not exactly the details you want to be logged. The good news is that most-used websites use HTTPS, but it’s worth being aware.

Apps ISP can know you're using

The information an ISP can gather about you goes further. The time you spend on a web page via URL timestamps, your locations through an IP address, the times you connect online, the services you stream on (like Netflix or Disney Plus), and what you download and its file size.

It even knows if you’re torrenting, along with your data and bandwidth consumption. With that information, an ISP may throttle your internet speeds if it thinks you’re taking up a large amount of bandwidth at once.

Nearly everything you do can be used to build a profile about your online habits – and that’s creepy to think about when it’s used without your knowledge. If you prefer to keep what you do online under wraps, there’s a simple way to hide from your ISP and stay private.

Should I use a VPN to stop my ISP tracking me?

The best solution to keep prying eyes from snooping on your daily internet browsing is to use a virtual private network (VPN). An ISP will know you’re connecting to a VPN, but not much else. It’s like watching a gig behind a really tall person – you know someone is on stage performing, but you can’t see what they’re doing.

Best VPN list - ExpressVPN

A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and disguises your identity while using it. Instead of seeing your real IP address, which your ISP gives you in order to identify you, a VPN will connect you to a server with its own IP address and location. An ISP can’t track you through a VPN server; since a server has many users, it becomes useless for collecting data.

Your browsing history, timestamp, streaming and downloads will all stay hidden while your location can’t be traced because you can connect to a VPN server anywhere in the world. For all your ISP knows, you could be halfway around the globe even though you’re surfing the web right at home.

The best VPNs, like ExpressVPN or Surfshark, make hiding from your ISP a breeze – just one click, and your traffic will stay encrypted. Even if you don’t mind the random targeted ad and have nothing to hide, keeping your data out of the wrong hands is always good practice. After all, your privacy is best kept secret.

Best VPNs to avoid tracking

1. ExpressVPN 🥇

Why You Should Use ExpressVPN? It’s the fastest and MOST reliable VPN of 2023

ExpressVPN UK screenshot

Pros

  • ✅ Fast servers
  • ✅ Thousands of IP addresses
  • ✅ 10-simultaneous connections
  • ✅ 24/7 Live Chat
  • ✅ Easy-to-use app
  • ✅ 30-day money-back guarantee

Cons

  • ❌ Expensive
Best VPN list - ExpressVPN

Special Offer for you!

Get 3 extra months free when you sign up for a 12-month ExpressVPN plan. That’s 15 months in total for the price of 12.

Number of servers: 3,000+ | Speed: >80% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 160 in 94 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes

  • $6.66/month for 15 months
  • $9.99/month for 6 months
  • $12.95/month for 1 month
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  • All 4 icon
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ExpressVPN ($6.66/month) is still the best VPN. And importantly, it ALWAYS has servers that are open with major streaming sites such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Paramount+, Amazon Prime Video, etc.

ExpressVPN is usually very good at playing Cat and Mouse with online streaming sites. Meaning, whenever one of its servers is blacklisted it creates a new one – giving its users a constant stream of servers that aren’t blocked. Needless to say, this is a valuable attribute if you’re looking for a VPN to unblock streaming sites.

Its app is easy-to-use and free to download on pretty much any device you can think of. Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireStick, Android TV, Roku, PS4, Xbox, Linux, even Apple TV (with a workaround). It’s got it all covered.

The app is another main reason this VPN is so good at unblocking TV streaming sites (that claim they block VPNs) is that its software takes a pragmatic approach to user management. While other VPNs tempt customers by promising them access to hundreds/thousands of servers in multiple countries, ExpressVPN does things differently.

With ExpressVPN you only have a handful of server locations to choose from. Once you select your location the app takes care of the rest. Assigning you to the fastest available server that’s not oversubscribed. This simple technique is so important, as it keeps ExpressVPN’s servers operating at lightning-fast speeds and prevents its IPs from getting blacklisted for “abnormal” usage in the first place.

Check out our full ExpressVPN review.

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2. NordVPN 🥈

A very quick and trustworthy VPN

NordVPN US screenshot mobile

Pros

  • ✅ Fast servers
  • ✅ No logs
  • ✅ Thousands of IP addresses
  • ✅ 6-simultaneous connections
  • ✅ 30-day money-back guarantee
  • ✅ Easy-to-use app

Cons

  • ❌ No refunds for purchases from iTunes/App store
Best VPN list - NordVPN

Special Offer for you!

Sign up for a 3-year plan with Private Internet Access and save 83% + 3 months free. That works out at $2.03/month.

Number of servers: 5,000+ | Speeds: >80% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 62 countries | Devices supported: 6 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes

  • $3.49/month for 2 years
  • $6.99/month for 1 year
  • $11.95/month for 1 month
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  • ShowTime icon
  • Discovery Plus icon
  • ABC icon
  • All 4 icon
  • NowTV icon
  • CBS icon
  • NBC icon
  • Sky Sports icon
  • BT Sport icon
  • ITV Hub icon
  • Spark Sport icon
  • CBC Gem icon

NordVPN is the most widely-used VPN in the world. And it’s easy to see why. It’s a polished app that delivers fast connections (more on this later) to a massive network of VPN servers.

It’s the most reliable at unblocking popular streaming services too – US Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, etc. This is because NordVPN hired a full-time technical team (that’s responsible for monitoring its servers’ connections with popular TV streaming services) and has been aggressively investing in its network of IP addresses in key locations.

Another interesting thing to note is that NordVPN is an industry leader in its development of Nordlynx technology. Nordlynx is built using the WireGuard, a new VPN tunneling protocol designed to outperform current standards (OpenVPN and IPSec). The benefits, according to NordVPN, are dramatically faster transfer speeds while connected to a VPN. My tests – New Zealand to London – confirm that Nordlynx is currently the fastest VPN on the market. However, the difference isn’t dramatic, a few Mbps is all.

Read our NordVPN review.

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3. Private Internet Access

The BEST low-cost VPN for streaming!

Best VPN list - PIA

Pros

  • ✅ Fast and reliable servers
  • ✅ Thousands of IP addresses
  • ✅ 10-simultaneous connections
  • ✅ 24/7 Live Chat
  • ✅ 30-day money-back guarantee

Cons

  • ❌ Only 48 server locations
Best VPN list - PIA

Special Offer for you!

Sign up for a 3-year plan with Private Internet Access and save 83% + 3 months free. That works out at $2.03/month.

Number of servers: 25,000+ | Speed: >75% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 70 in 74 countries | Devices supported: 10 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes

  • $2.03/month for 3 years
  • $7.50/month for 6 months
  • $11.99/month for 1 month
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  • YouTube TV icon
  • Apple TV Plus icon
  • FuboTV icon
  • ShowTime icon
  • Discovery Plus icon
  • ABC icon
  • All 4 icon
  • NowTV icon
  • CBS icon
  • NBC icon
  • Sky Sports icon
  • BT Sport icon

Private Internet Access is one of the leading no-log VPN services with over 1-million paying customers.

This VPN is one of the best in the industry at beating streaming sites’ VPN bans. It provides reliable connections with US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+ Amazon Prime Video, etc. It also allows 10 simultaneous devices to be connected to its servers at the same time, so you can share the account with your close friends.

If – for whatever reason – you’re not happy with Private Internet Access, there’s a 24/7 live chat support available to assist you with your problem. PIA also offers the industry-standard 30-day money-back guarantee.

From my tests (from New Zealand) I was able to get download speeds of 70 Mbps while connected to a UK server using the Private Internet Access VPN (my non-VPN speed is 100 Mbps).

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4. Ivacy

A very quick and trustworthy VPN

Ivacy US screenshot mobile

Pros

  • ✅ Fast servers
  • ✅ Thousands of IP addresses
  • ✅ Dedicated streaming servers
  • ✅ 5-simultaneous connections
  • ✅ 30-day money-back guarantee
  • ✅ 24/7 Live Chat

Cons

  • ❌ Only 5 devices
  • ❌ Sometimes runs slow
  • ❌ Occasionally block by streaming sites for several days
Best VPN - Ivacy on Mac

Special Offer for you!

Sign up for Ivacy and enjoy a 7-day trial with no strings attached

Number of servers: 1,000+ | Speed: >65% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 275 in 100 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes

  • $1.16/month for 5 years
  • $3.50/month for 1 year
  • $9.99/month for 1 month
  • Netflix icon
  • BBC iPlayer icon
  • ESPN icon
  • Hulu icon
  • HBO Max icon
  • Disney icon
  • Amazon Prime Video icon
  • YouTube TV icon
  • Apple TV Plus icon
  • FuboTV icon
  • ShowTime icon
  • Discovery Plus icon
  • ABC icon
  • All 4 icon
  • NowTV icon
  • CBS icon
  • NBC icon
  • Sky Sports icon
  • BT Sport icon
  • ITV Hub icon
  • Spark Sport icon
  • CBC Gem icon

If you’re looking for an excellent VPN, with an even better price tag, Ivacy ($1.16/month) is a great option.

This VPN has all the features you need to stream BBC iPlayer, in HD, from any country in the world. I’ve been testing the app recently on Mac, PC, Android, iOS and FireStick and the results have been impressive – unlocking BBC iPlayer, US Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, etc. with ease.

The Ivacy app is a little different in regards to its UX (user experience). Instead of just selecting a UK server, you need to select the specific BBC iPlayer server. Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing – by connecting to a dedicated BBC iPlayer server, it simply means that you’re connecting to an IP address that Ivacy knows works with BBC iPlayer.

For an extra $1.99/month (£1.74) you can add-on a dedicated IP. This will buy you sole access to an IP address in a country of your choice, meaning you won’t have to share your IP (and speeds) with any other use. I don’t recommend this though, using the regular Ivacy servers is enough 95 per cent of the time.

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5. CyberGhost

A very quick and trustworthy VPN

CyberGhost UK screenshot

Pros

  • ✅ 1-day free trial
  • ✅ Reliable servers
  • ✅ Thousands of IP addresses
  • ✅ 7-simultaneous connections
  • ✅ 30-day money-back guarantee
  • ✅ Easy-to-use app

Cons

  • ❌ Expensive
  • ❌ Average speed scores
CyberGhost
CyberGhost

SPECIAL OFFER – 1-DAY FREE TRIAL

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Number of servers: 1,000+ | Speed: >65% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 275 in 100 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes

  • $2.75/month for 3 years
  • $3.69/month for 2 years
  • $5.99/month for 1 year
  • $12.99/month for 1 month
  • Netflix icon
  • BBC iPlayer icon
  • ESPN icon
  • Hulu icon
  • HBO Max icon
  • Disney icon
  • Amazon Prime Video icon
  • YouTube TV icon
  • Apple TV Plus icon
  • FuboTV icon
  • ShowTime icon
  • Discovery Plus icon
  • ABC icon
  • All 4 icon
  • NowTV icon
  • CBS icon
  • NBC icon
  • Sky Sports icon
  • BT Sport icon

CyberGhost is one of the more established VPNs on the market. It has a well-established, and well-tested global network of servers that perform well.

From my tests over the past several months, CyberGhost has no trouble at unblocking major streaming services – US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max etc. This VPN performed well at maintaining download speeds, well above 65 per cent of my regular (non VPN) ISP speed.

That said, there’s nothing really unique about the service. Which forces you to look at its price-point. And there’s nothing special here. Its short-term $12.99/month price tag puts is well above the industry average of $10.10/month. Similarly, its long-term $2.75/month for 3 years deal isn’t much of a “deal” either.

Oddly, CyberGhost’s most unique feature is its a 1-day, no obligations, free trial. This is an appealing offer to customers who are new to VPNs. However, it’s important to remember that most reputable VPNs will offer customers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so try not to be too seduced by the offer.

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Darragh Murphy
Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from the mischievous world of online security to washing machines designed for earbuds. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for laptops into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. When he's not checking out the latest devices and all things tech, he can be found swimming laps, watching terrible shark movies, and trying to find time to game.  Previous Editor at Laptop Mag and News Editor at Time Out Dubai, specialising in food culture, nightlife events, gaming, tech and entertainment.

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