There are a few things in this world that everyone wants to keep private, one of which is their internet search history.
Even if you’re not doing anything nefarious online, you’d probably like to keep your late-night Googling sessions to yourself. You likely also don’t want your boss to know how much company time you spent doom-scrolling Twitter.
But, is your internet activity actually private? Can the Wi-Fi network owners see which websites you visit and what you do on apps? If so, how can you hide your internet traffic?
Keep reading to find out!
Can Wi-Fi Owners See What Websites I Visit?
Yes, Wi-Fi owners can see your internet activity.
To connect you to websites, the router must read your device’s IP address and the website’s URL before routing the data from the internet to your device (e.g. computer, smartphone, etc).
Additionally, certain routers keep logs of devices’ IP addresses and internet activity that can be accessed by heading to the router’s admin page. While this feature is useful when you’re trying to figure out if other people are secretly using your Wi-Fi, it can become troublesome if you’re trying to keep your online activity private.
You can access your router’s admin page by entering its IP address (found on the back of the router) in a browser’s URL bar. The admin page will prompt you for a username and password, which can also be found on the back of the router.
Wi-Fi owners can also monitor other’s online activity using network monitoring tools, such as Wireshark.
Can Wi-Fi Owners See What I Do On Apps?
No, routers do not keep a log of the specific tasks you perform on websites or apps.
While routers do keep a log of your IP address and the websites’ IP addresses you visit, they do not store information about what you do on this website.
For instance, the Wi-Fi owners may be able to see that you visited YouTube, but they won’t be able to see that you binge-watched gaming tutorials.
So, while your boss will be able to see that you visited Facebook 11 times one day, they won’t be able to see that you were stalking your ex. Still, they will be able to see that you spent company time on social media.
That said, some routers do collect specific browsing data to sell to third parties which will use it to advertise products to you later. For example, if the router logs reveal that you spent hours watching makeup videos, you may see several makeup ads.
Can Wi-Fi Owners See What Websites I Visit If I Use a VPN
No, Wi-Fi owners can not see which websites you visit if you use a VPN.
Instead, they will only see that you are accessing a VPN.
VPNs hide your internet traffic by encrypting it before it leaves your computer and is sent to your router, allowing you to privately access websites without the Wi-Fi owners’ knowledge.
This information will only be decrypted once it is received by the VPN server, meaning that the router (or any third parties) won’t be able to keep a log of your activity.
However, VPNs can access your internet activity and may keep logs of it, depending on the VPN provider’s terms and conditions.
Can Wi-Fi Owners See What Websites I Visit If I Use Incognito?
Yes, Wi-Fi owners can still access your internet activity when in incognito mode.
While incognito mode prevents your internet activity, browsing history, and websites’ cookies and data from being stored on your device, it does not prevent this activity from being shared with the router.
Your internet activity in incognito mode is not encrypted, making it readily available to your router and, consequently, its Wi-Fi owner.
So, if it’s your browsing history you’re worried about, using incognito is a good choice. However, if you want to hide all of your internet activity from the Wi-Fi owner, you’ll need to employ another method.
How to Stop Wi-Fi Owners from Seeing My Internet Traffic?
Using a VPN is the only way to hide your online activity from the router’s owners.
Encrypting your data is currently the only way to hide your internet traffic from your router. Since VPNs keep your data encrypted until they reach the VPN’s servers, they will ensure that your router cannot access any of your information.
That said, some network administrators or Wi-Fi owners may block VPN traffic in an attempt to see all of the user’s online activity. Businesses and schools often employ this tactic to encourage peak productivity.
Also, since some VPNs keep logs of their user’s online activities, it’s a good idea to carefully research the different VPN providers to ensure your information won’t be stored on their servers.
Wrapping Things Up
Wi-Fi owners can see which websites you visit and your IP address. However, they can not see what you do on these websites or apps, meaning they can not see which videos you’ve watched, posts you’ve clicked on, or messages you’ve sent.
The only way to hide your online traffic from Wi-Fi owners is to use a VPN, though some network administrators may block your VPN access. If your work or school’s network has blocked VPNs, consider keeping your information private by using a mobile hotspot instead.
Bear in mind that some VPNs store your internet traffic on their servers, so do your research before committing to any VPN provider.
Did you know that Wi-Fi owners can see which websites you visit?
Let us know in the comments below!
Yesenia Achlim is a technical copywriter and editor with a focus on AV equipment. She aims to break down complicated topics and make technology accessible, no matter your technical expertise. When she’s not teaching you how to replace a projector lamp, you can find her reading and baking.