The state of internet privacy in Australia: What your ISP can actually see
In between all that web browsing, emailing, texting and other activities that you pursue online, have you ever stopped to wonder what your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can see and store? You should know the answer to questions such as “how long do ISPs keep browsing history”, because from a privacy awareness perspective, it’s really important to understand just how much of you is out there.
Like Google, your ISP actually knows a lot about you. In some countries, they can also share your personal information for marketing and other uses. If this worries you, you’re not alone. But, what is the state of internet privacy in Australia?
To ease your mind, it helps to understand what your ISP can legally see and do, as well as simple ways to improve your privacy. Let’s take a closer look.
The current landscape of internet privacy in Australia
In Australia, it became mandatory in April 2017 for Australian ISPs and telecommunication companies to collect and store “metadata” about their customers’ communications for a minimum of two years.
Under Federal Government legislation, your telco is required to store the following metadata (i.e. the technical details surrounding your communications):
- Your name, address, DOB, email address, billing details, and other identifying information associated with your account
- The time, date and duration of your communications
- The type of communications (e.g. phone, text, social media, email)
- The destination of any communications
- Your IP address
- Bandwidth usage
The actual content of your communications is not stored, and neither is your web browsing history. When it comes to internet usage, the scheme only requires ISPs to log the time your modem actually connects to the internet and how much bandwidth you’ve used.
In the US, this isn’t the case, with President Donald Trump signing legislation that has wiped away landmark privacy protections, theoretically allowing ISPs to collect and sell information such as web browsing history and app usage. For many citizens, this is legitimate cause for concern.
The storage of metadata in Australia is supposed to help protect national security and investigate serious crime. This means certain government agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, can access metadata – without a warrant.
While the privacy landscape in Australia isn’t as worrying as in the US, there is still some concern about why metadata is being stored, and what you should do if you would like to better protect your privacy online.
Finding a different way around
There are ways to ensure some of your information isn’t stored by the mandatory data retention scheme. Instead of texting and chatting over the phone, you might want to use services such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Skype, and FaceTime – all of which are exempt.
When browsing the web, it’s also wise to use websites that take advantage of HTTPS. Essentially, HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) is the secure version of HTTP. This means all communication between your browser and the website are encrypted, which gives you more protection when sharing confidential information.
Is it time to get a VPN?
While the Federal Government in Australia isn’t allowed to access your web traffic or browser history, a VPN (virtual private network) is the best way to protect your privacy online.
As you might know already, VPNs allow you to access the internet through another computer’s connection. Effectively, this means your telco or ISP can only see your connection to your VPN service – not the websites you’re browsing.
That said, if you’re thinking about using a VPN, it’s important to do your research and know which ones are trustworthy. With the rise of cybercrime and the public’s anxiety about privacy, there are now many VPN providers to choose from.
Make sure you read up on the privacy policies of the providers you’re interested in, making sure they spell out exactly what their service does, the information it collects, and what it uses the information for.
Look into the VPN’s features and bonus features, such as ad-blocking and firewalls. Keep in mind that most reputable VPNs will cost money, so make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting into before committing to using one.
The bottom line is, VPNs are fast becoming a simple way to protect your privacy online. While the need to start using a VPN in Australia isn’t as great as in other countries, they still go a long way in strengthening your digital security. For example, using a VPN can help keep your confidential details safe when using unknown wireless networks in airports, around town, in cafes, or at work.
Your next steps
When it comes to protecting your privacy, it’s always a good idea to stay abreast of legislative changes in the landscape. While ISPs in Australia don’t have as much power as they do in countries such as the US, it still pays to follow up on what’s happening. This will help you find valuable information on how to better protect yourself online, whether this means using different methods of communication or investing in a reputable VPN.
Either way, it’s natural to feel worried about your privacy. But keep in mind that in Australia, digital privacy policies are quite strong. And while ISPs are required to collect certain amounts of metadata, they’re also required to protect this information.
If you have any questions about Aussie Broadband’s protection of your data, contact our team and they’ll be able to answer any questions you may have.