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Who can see your search history?

Under a standard network setup, you may be surprised to learn who can see your search history. Your browsing data is certainly more vulnerable on shared public Wi-Fi hotspots, but even at home or at work, many outsiders can view what you search for online. These entities can include internet service providers, network administrators, search engines, websites, government agencies, and hackers and cybercriminals.

Internet service providers

Even if you’re in the privacy of your own home, it doesn’t mean your search history is private. Because they facilitate your internet access, your internet service provider, or ISP, is uniquely positioned to view your search history. This includes everything like the sites you visit, apps you use, and your social media activity. 

Network administrators

Network administrators, like those who manage internet access at workplaces and Wi-Fi hotspots, for example, are in a similar position to an ISP. Because they’re in control of their networks, they’re able to see all the traffic that passes through them, including your search history. 

Search engines

It probably goes without saying that search engines like Google can see your search history. In fact, it’s a major component of their business model. This data is incredibly valuable to search engines and their partners; it is used in a multitude of ways, including to serve you more relevant ads. 


Like search engines, many websites you visit are involved in data collection for the purpose of targeted advertising. These websites use cookies, which help increase the speed of your browsing experience, but also track you around the web. 

Government agencies

All around the world, government entities, such as law enforcement agencies, hoover up search histories en masse. This bulk data collection is supposedly done in the interest of crime prevention, counter-terrorism, and public safety. But while these intentions may seem good, this process treats everyone like a suspect, including those who haven’t done anything to warrant suspicion. 

Hackers and cybercriminals

Unlike some of the other parties on this list, hackers and cybercriminals can’t always see your search history by default. But they can use a variety of methods to obtain it, including Man-in-the-Middle and evil twin attacks. 

What does a VPN do, exactly?

Before we consider whether or not a VPN can hide your search history, it’s important to understand what a VPN does, and how it works. 

A VPN, short for virtual private network, secures the connection from your device to the internet. To achieve secure connections, a VPN sends your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a private, remote server. This process creates two key benefits. First, it makes your digital data unreadable to outsiders and third parties. And second, it masks your true IP address with the VPN server’s IP address, thus altering your visible online location. 

Does a VPN hide your search history from your ISP?

In short, yes — a VPN does hide your search history from your ISP. This is because a VPN routes your traffic through a VPN server instead of one of your ISP’s servers, and encrypts your data in the process. 

Normally your data is compiled into packets, which can then be unpacked by your ISP using a tool called Deep Packet Inspection. Because your data is encrypted, however, your ISP is unable to unpack your data. This is especially beneficial during times of broadband network congestion, when ISPs often throttle user bandwidth. Since your ISP is unable to view your activity, they won’t be able to accurately gauge your bandwidth usage, making you less of a target for throttling. 

Can’t you just use incognito mode?

You may think incognito mode is a simple alternative to a VPN when it comes to keeping your search history private. But beware: incognito is not actually private.

While incognito mode does not actively track the websites you visit, save your browsing history for future sessions, or use cookies like a standard browser mode, that doesn’t mean it hides your browsing history from others. Previously mentioned outsiders, such as your ISP and network administrators, could still view your online activity, even if you use incognito mode.  

Can a VPN see your search history?

So, we’ve established that a VPN can hide your search history from your ISP (as well as other third parties). But what about the VPN itself? The answer isn’t so straightforward, because it depends entirely on the VPN provider you choose. This is because when you use a VPN, you’re essentially transferring the handling of your web traffic from your ISP to your VPN provider.

Free VPN providers, for example, can and often do snoop on their users’ search histories. In fact, sharing this data with others is even part of some free VPNs business model; without revenue from subscriptions, they’re forced to make money in other ways to remain operational, after all.

If you don’t want your VPN to see your search history, you’ll need to choose a VPN provider you trust. So, how do you know if you can trust them? Consider their privacy policy. Their privacy policy should be very clear about how they handle your data. Most importantly, your VPN provider should be a “no logs” VPN service. This means they won’t record or monitor your personal web traffic and are therefore legally bound to not spy on your search history.

How to hide your search history from your ISP with a VPN

If you need a VPN for ultimate browsing privacy, look no further than IPVanish. IPVanish is a no logs, high-speed VPN service with apps for all your favorite devices. Hiding your search history from your ISP and other third parties is quite simple with IPVanish. Just follow the steps below to get started. 

  1. Sign up for an Vpnzr VPN subscription. 
  2. Download the Vpnzr app on the device(s) of your choice.
  3. Open the Vpnzr app and sign into your account.
  4. Choose a server in your desired location and tap or click CONNECT. 

It’s really that easy. With an active Vpnzr connection, your browsing history will be hidden from any snoopers, and you’ll be able to use any network safely, from airports to coffee shops, and everywhere in between. 

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