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I understand that an ISP has the ability to monitor a user's Internet browsing history, but do they actually do it without a subpoena/court order? And if they do, does the user's history look exactly how the history tab in Chrome looks, or is it categorized by site/date/something else

closed as too broad by Matthew, Eric G, David, Tobi Nary, Xiong Chiamiov Jan 10 '18 at 0:21

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  • it looks more like an apache log than a browser history UI. assume data is kept forever, since it could be if needed (hard drives are cheap). – dandavis Jan 7 '18 at 20:42
  • We have no way of knowing without being employees at your ISP, and if we were, we probably couldn't tell you. The way that the data is presented is off-topic for security.SE, too. – Xiong Chiamiov Jan 10 '18 at 0:22
  • @dandavis someone working at an ISP told me that ISPs usually keep user activity for a maximum of 5 years – Alexander A Jan 10 '18 at 8:29
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I understand that an ISP has the ability to monitor a user's Internet browsing history

The ISP can monitor your current activity but not your history. It might of course save the results of this monitoring for later but it will for example not be able to see which sites you've used on your laptop while using some public Hotspot not covered by this ISP.

Also, it is limited what your ISP can see. He would be able to see which sites you access and with more efforts also URL and exchanged data if no encryption is used (i.e. HTTP) but if you visit HTTPS sites he will only be able to see which site you visit but not the actual content or full URL.

For more details look at the many what can my ISP see questions on this site.

do they actually do it without a subpoena/court order?

This depends on the local law if the ISP is allowed to do this (you might check at law.stackexchange.com). But it is known that some ISP not only monitor the traffic but also modify it to inject advertisements. And some see selling the browsing history or the profiles generated by this as an additional way to make money from their customers (of course, it is only for your best so that you get advertisements which you actually want to see).

does the user's history look exactly how the history tab in Chrome looks, or is it categorized by site/date/something else

I'm pretty sure that it does not like in Chrome since this interface is not suitable for fast and large scale analysis. It might not even be some nice GUI because maybe they use some pattern matching on the console (green text on black background of course, as all hackers do). Or it might be some fancy futuristic interface where they can drill down quickly to every image you've ever downloaded through your browser. But whatever you imagine as fancy interface - it will probably be different to it and instead just some seemingly boring interface.

  • Thanks! if an ISP keeps a user's Internet browsing history for 5 years (I guess that's the most they keep history stored?), after 5 years pass, would there be any way to know that an individual had visited that particular site? – Alexander A Jan 7 '18 at 14:02
  • @AlexanderA: I don't know why you are assuming that a) the ISP monitors you b) the ISP keeps the files for 5 years and c) the ISP is the only one monitoring you. There are multiple hops on the way from your computer to the server you visit and your ISP is only one part of it. There are for example logs on your computer were somebody might get access to and there might be also logs at the server you visit. – Steffen Ullrich Jan 7 '18 at 14:22
  • Thanks. Last question: If a guy living in an oppressive country such as Saudi Arabia visited an atheist site, for instance. 5 years later, would you tell him that there's a high possibility the ISP deleted the evidence of that from their servers or would you tell him to travel abroad and stay away? Just hypothetically – Alexander A Jan 7 '18 at 14:32
  • @AlexanderA: I would not tell him this since I have no idea if the ISP is monitoring the traffic or how long they keep log files. But, if the ISP noticed illegal activity he might have forwarded the information to law enforcement already and these usually keep such information for much longer. Or all the log data are forwarded to law enforcement anyway so it does not matter how long the ISP keeps the data. – Steffen Ullrich Jan 7 '18 at 14:37
  • If the ISP forwarded the information to law enforcement, this person in our hypothetical example would have gotten in trouble much sooner than 5 years after visiting the atheist website. My question is: after the ISP deletes the activity (which I guess they retain for a number of years, 5 perhaps), would there be any way that guy could get into trouble? This is hypothetical. Thanks! – Alexander A Jan 7 '18 at 15:12

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