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When you cancel your Internet service, your IP address is released and made available to others. But, in reality, that may have already been happening.

If I cancel my internet service completely, does my IP address then become null and void? And will the websites and search providers that I've visited and used still keep record of my visits?

Null and void? Certainly not. It's still quite a valid internet IP address. It just might be given to someone else.

As for the records of your visits... Well, let's just say that you haven't erased any of the tracks that might have been left.

Releasing an IP Address

When you disconnect from the internet by canceling your service, the IP address that was assigned to your computer or router is returned to the pool of available IP addresses. What that means is that your ISP is then free to assign it to another customer.

"... this kind of IP tracing is not available to the general public."

And, in practice, that's exactly what happens.

Perhaps the most important to realize is that, unless you specifically have a static or unchanging IP address, it may have already changed several times since you've had your account.

It's more likely that you have the more common dynamic IP address.

When you have a dynamic IP address, the ISP is free to change it. Often, the ISP will assign a new one each time that you connect to the internet. But that's not guaranteed. Your dynamic IP address could remain stable for a very long time, or it could occasionally change without you doing anything at all.

In almost all cases, you'd never notice or need to care.

Your IP Address in Server Logs

There may or many not be logs of your visits to websites and search providers. Whether or not to keep logs at all is a decision made by each service. In addition, there's no standard as to how long those logs should be kept. It could be a few hours or it could be months or years.

If you're concerned about being traced by your IP address, you should realize two things:

  • If logs are kept, they keep not only your IP address, but the date and time of your access.

  • Your ISP may also keep logs of which IP addresses you were assigned and when.

Those two pieces of information can be combined to trace back to you, if there is a need, even after you cancel your account.

Now, before you start to feel paranoid, this kind of IP tracing is not available to the general public. The server logs and the ISP logs are generally considered private information and they would only be made available to law enforcement officials under whatever legal processes are in place for your location or the location of the service.

Article C4746 - February 18, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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11 Comments
Bob
February 22, 2011 1:53 AM

I recently had cause to monitor exactly how much information arrives and leaves my machine. (I found out I can monitor the byte usage though my network / sharing centre).
Analysing that, it told me of my v4 and my v6 status, and how long my internet IP address was actually 'mine'. 24 hours.

Kelly Garner
February 22, 2011 8:48 AM

So I access internet at a public WiFi (Say McDonalds) out of sight of any cameras (say from neighbor's parking lot) and use an offshore Proxy Server located in say Panama (Panama refuses to respond to US suppoenas) to surf.

Is there any way to trace my surfing back to the computer I was using?

Hard to say - it depends on what you were doing. There may well be other ways (cookies come to mind, or perhaps similar technologies) that will allow "them" to identify you.
Leo
22-Feb-2011

Frank Jordan
February 22, 2011 9:03 AM

Kelly's comment is a good one. I can see 3500 families that were cruisified by the RIAA who wished they had taken those precautions.

I was looking at Software for sale on Ebay. Some is from Microsoft and provided via download. While today it may be legit, what if Microsoft decides to sue tommorow and it is decreed to be illegit and gets the company's records in the settlement. Will they pull a RIAA stunt and come after me tomorrow? Best practice safe and untraceable internet use just in case!

So what is the best way to hide my usage?

SirMarjAlot
February 22, 2011 12:06 PM

What about using more than one identity from the same computer? I know some forums can check for this via the IP address, Or how can you effectively use more than one identity over the internet from the same computer and they not be linked?

Kelly Garner
February 22, 2011 6:09 PM

Use a proxy server to cloak your IP. Use an offshore proxy server if you want to make it hard to access the records. There used to be a European proxy service that refused to create any usage logs to make tracing anything impossible. They may still be in business.

Brian Bicknell
February 23, 2011 1:46 AM

I have read with growing apprehension all the comments about IP addresses and traceability. Are we not all chasing down the wrong road? Should we not be thinking "what gives the servers the right to collect information about our visits in the first place"? If I go down our local High St. I am not asked my address at every shop I visit and then asked what other shops I have visited that day.AND a record kept of my answers! Surely, such intrusion into our private lives is against our basic human right. Perhaps we and our governments should be protesting that ISP's do NOT hold any records whatsoever of the activities of their clients.This would then put an end to all this fear and anxiety.

Kelly Garner
February 23, 2011 3:47 AM

Leo,

Are you saying that deleting cookies, browsing history, etc from Explorer's Tool Menu does not, in fact, delete the cookies and browsing history? Is there other evidence of visited websites retained on my computer?

Even if you clear all of the information from your computer completely there are server logs and other information that may be kept by the services you used. ALL web servers can keep access logs and almost all do (including ask-leo.com) - a record of your IP address, the date and time of yoru visit, and the pages you viewer are part of that information. Like I said, for almost every web service on the internet. What varies is how long that information is kept; hours? days? weeks? years? Don't know.
Leo
23-Feb-2011

Kelly Garner
February 23, 2011 2:02 PM

Leo

The ISP's logs only trace my usage to the IP of the wireless router at the location where I connected. If I'm connecting at a public WiFi spot, it's a large jump to prove it was my PC that performed the D/L if I "sanitized" my PC afterword.

The question revolved around how much "sanitizing" is sufficient? i.e. is there anyway the ISP could have captured the Serial Number of the processor on my PC? How about the Serial Number of the computer? Hard Drive? Various S/W programs installed? etc.

Bob
February 24, 2011 1:28 AM

A comment on the 'shopping' analogy from Brian.
Big Brother already record our visits to the shops... on their security camera.
If they wanted to, they could log how many times we visit, and how long we spend in the store.
If they wanted to, they could share these tapes with other shops (and if the person has a history of criminal activity, they often do).
We are already being watched in our every-day lives. Online is no different.

Maria
March 5, 2011 5:07 AM

Hi Leo ,

It is just happen that one of my contacts, which as per today I am not in contact with anymore, has a great knowledge of IT and online marketing and I had the impression that my email accounts, hotmail and yahoo where he was included as a contact were compromised as well as my entire communication via internet. It had been my impression that on hotmail i was routed to a phising page somehow with specific ads whenever reading one of emails received or exchange with him. The ads stored on each page traced me and he might be able to know exactly all my conextions on internet including all my contacts and emails. Once I closed down the hotmail account and installed a new antivirus in my PC I started to receive spam messages in my yahoo account, from contacts I had on my closed hotmail account. And these days, even if I search in youtube, the records that appear are not the official videos but specially under featured videos, the once done by general public, which is considering to be the right videos for video targeting... used with adwords...

On my facebook account, all ads are related to his country and in his language... is my connexion being routed to his server ... ??

My question is, if I move country and I use the same PC ( even if the IP will not be the same any longer), is there any way this person, if in the worse case has been tracing all my internet communication, can have any chance to continue doing it? I guess, I would need to change my PC name as well or what is your advice?
Thanks

verda
February 23, 2012 3:50 PM

Dear Leo, I was a yahoo account and I haven't use it for 4 years.Yahoo delete this account. I want to know my registered Ip or other subscription information are still alive? Are they still save in yahoo's log files?

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