Q. A friend told me that my Internet service provider is tracking where I go online. Is this true? If so, what can I do to stop it? Thanks for your advice.
-James from Hibbing, MN, listens to my national radio show on WNMT 650 AM.
A. The answer to your first question, James, is a definite maybe. Obviously, your ISP is going to know where you go online - it handles all the traffic.
Whether it keeps records of your travels is a different matter. The only confirmed information that ISPs store is IP-address assignments.
As a quick refresher, your Internet Protocol address is what identifies your computer or home network online.
Home Internet plans mostly use dynamic IP addresses. This means that your IP address can change regularly.
Many ISPs keep logs of IP assignments so they know who used what IP address when. This can be a privacy problem if a company, or the government, wants to find out who accessed a specific site at a specific time.
They can subpoena your ISP for the IP logs. After that, it's just a simple matter to see that you were using a certain IP address when the site was accessed. Piracy lawsuits often rely on this practice to identify copyright infringers.
Now, this can actually have a positive benefit; in some cases it might clear you of wrongdoing. You can prove you weren't using the IP address when it was used to pirate content or distribute child pornography. Wrongful accusations based on someone's current IP address do happen.