It is ironic that the internet offers anonymity as one of its main benefits while making it extremely difficult to stay completely anonymous. Advertising companies and other third parties seem to be very interested in what we are doing online. Is it even possible to be anonymous?
Complete anonymity might be a perfection we can only strive for, but never actually reach it. However, becoming more anonymous can also be of great significance in protecting from others abusing the data they collect about you. Here is what you need to know about staying anonymous online in 2020!
What Is Internet Anonymity?
If you are anonymous while browsing the internet, that means no one will know who you are or receive any personal information about you. Many people confuse anonymity with privacy, but staying anonymous is only one aspect of privacy.
The critical thing to consider is that it is not about being completely anonymous. For example, registering on a website will require entering a valid email address, which might be the information that you are willing to share.
The entire point is that you should have the right to control your anonymity. That is not something the internet always allows, which is why we gathered some tips on how to be more anonymous.
Why Should You Be Anonymous?
You might be wondering why it is important to consider your level of internet anonymity. Yes, the main benefit is that you decrease the risk of someone stealing your personal or financial information. That is vital, but anonymity also matters for many other reasons.
- Express yourself – you might be different from the rest of the world, and it is hard to express your true self offline. However, once you go to the internet, it is easier to be your actual self. You can express your interests and viewpoints without worrying about potential dangers related to them.
- Safety – this factor ties to the previous reason we mentioned. For example, let’s take an LGBT person. They might be having problems to connect offline. In the internet world, anonymity can protect them against potential threats (at least to some extent). It can be a safer place for them to connect and express themselves.
- Develop yourself as a person and discover new interests – the internet allows you to browse different websites and discover new interests. You might find that you like a particular hobby or sport. Additionally, you will read different viewpoints that help to challenge your mind and develop as a person. Getting out of the filter bubble will help you to do that, too.
Don’t Use Google Search Engine
If you need to find out something quickly, you probably grab your phone or use your PC to search the web. Billions of people throughout the world use Google as their preferred search engine. You might now be aware that Google collects information about your browsing activity.
It is not only they collect the keywords you used during the searches, but also your IP address, location, and other information. They use this to shape birthday advertisements to increase the odds of showing ads that would attract your interest.
Use a Private Search Engine
There is a safe and anonymous way around using Google when searching the web. The secret lies in using an anonymous search engine. You can improve your anonymity when searching via Google, but there is a better and easier way.
The experts recommend trying private search engines, such as Privado. This platform is easy to use, even if you are a total internet newbie.
Here is how it works:
- Type the address of the private search engine in the address bar. You can use both PCs and portable devices like smartphones and tablets.
- Enter the desired keywords and execute the search query.
- The engine will show the best matches to your keywords.
The system is exactly the same, but where does the difference lie? Private search engines will never track your searches. They will create an anonymous ID to stop the search engine from learning your IP address and other sensitive details. These platforms will even encrypt search terms in your browsing history. That will keep you safe even if you forget to delete the searching history after you finish using a PC.
Try Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
The next step in achieving internet anonymity is to find a way to avoid sharing your IP address. That address can be easily connected to your location, which helps advertising companies to filter out ads that they will show you.
Using Virtual Private Networks or VPNs is an excellent way to promote internet anonymity and online privacy. Here are some benefits of these networks:
- A different IP address – a virtual private network usually uses an IP address from another part of the world. It is an excellent way of preventing third parties from discovering your location.
- A remote control – you can access the network from any location with an internet connection. That makes it great for companies and teams who share data. Additionally, a VPN gives them an option to share files safely.
- Unlock restricted websites – it might be unavailable to access certain sites in your country, but a VPN can be a way around it.
The biggest downside can be that VPNs aren’t always free. You should also choose carefully since some networks might offer slow connection speeds, especially at peak times.
Delete All Cookies
You’ve surely heard about internet cookies, which are totally different than treats from the real world that we all love. While cookies are not that bad themselves, it is important to learn how to control them.
Adjusting the cookie settings is possible within the Settings section of your internet browser. That is also where you can delete existing cookies to ensure no one has been compromising your anonymity up to that point.
Here is how to delete cookies on various browsers.
- Access the Settings by clicking the Menu icon with three dots in the upper right corner.
- Pick Privacy and Security from the offered tabs.
3. Click on Clear Browsing Data and choose the time range to be “from the beginning of time.”
4. Don’t forget to select that you want to delete cookies. Confirm to execute the deletion.
- Choose Clear History from the main Safari menu.
2. Pick the timeframe for deleting the history. Click on Delete to confirm.
- Choose Options from the Main Menu (in the upper-right section, find the button with horizontal lines). Now, pick the Privacy & Security section.
- Find the box for deleting cookies and mark it. Click on Clear Data.
3. Firefox will ask you to confirm everything once again. Do that and wait for a couple of seconds so that the browser can finalize the process.
- Start by selecting Settings from the upper-right menu (the button with three horizontal dots).
- Pick Privacy & Security to open the following:
3. You will click on Choose What to Clear and then mark the box next to cookies. You can also delete other files while you are there.
4. Click on Clear to execute the action.
Use Incognito Mode as a Start
A basic action to use to improve your internet anonymity is choosing the Incognito mode on your browser. This mode has the names Privacy or Incognito, but most popular browsers have one.
The difference is that this mode will delete all cookies once you exit the browser. It will also not memorize the pages you visited in the browsing history. That can be a convenient way to protect yourself when using public devices to surf the web.
You will find many debates about whether using an incognito mode is enough to protect your privacy. The answer is that there are still ways for some services to track you in this mode.
That is particularly true for Google. If you log in to check your Gmail messages and then head to a website that uses Google services, tracking will be possible. Furthermore, the company will probably connect the two to gather information about your browsing activity. Naturally, it will be possible to avoid this if you don’t log in to your Google account at all.
Why Changing Browsers Is Better?
For those who want to achieve maximum anonymity, reliable anonymous browsers are a mandatory step. The most popular browser in this category is Tor. You can download it for free to use on your PC. Its interface is not that different than Firefox or Chrome, which makes it suitable for beginners.
The main advantage of Tor is that it filters all traffic through their network before communicating with the World Wide Web directly. You would be surprised, but Tor is capable of using thousands of nodes (servers or relays) distributed in all corners of the world.
The idea is the following – you want to visit a website, and these nodes help you to deliver the data you are sending on random sequences. Thanks to that, it is impossible for anyone to trace the information back to your PC.
Tor also won’t run website plugins and executable strips until you allow it. It will prevent you from using the majority of extensions since they could also hurt your anonymity.
Avoid Spam! But How?
If you are an internet user, the odds are that you are familiar with spam emails. You might be receiving them to your inbox occasionally. The majority of email providers have integrated filters that try to place spam messages in a separate folder. That way, you won’t have to deal with most of them. However, some spams find their way to your inbox, and you are wondering how to avoid them.
The sender of those emails probably acquired your email address somewhere. As a result, it would be best if you don’t enter your private email address anywhere. You might want to open an alternative email to use on websites that require registering, such as social media. As for your private email, only share it with those you trust.
You will also want to avoid signing up for newsletters and mailing lists. It is impossible to know whose database will be hacked, and data breaches could involve stealing your email and abusing it to send you spams.
Use Social Networks Carefully
You are browsing updates posted by your Facebook friends, and you come across an advertisement. Facebook and other social media earn by having their users looking at ads. They don’t hesitate to share your private information with advertisers and other shady companies.
And it is not only about ad agencies. If you create a Facebook profile and leave your birthday and email address open for public access, ANYONE can see it. Why would you want anyone you don’t consider a friend to see that info?
You can change this by visiting the Privacy section in your Account Settings.
You will find various different adjustments here. The general recommendation is not to set anything on public but limit to Friends or Only Me. Make sure that the search engines cannot link to your profile since that might compromise your anonymity.
These options are similar to Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media. The idea is to browse through each item in settings carefully and tailor it to your preferences and the desired immunity level.
Try Encrypted Email Services
We already discussed avoiding spam emails, but what happens with the messages you send and receive from your friends and business associates? You might need to send some personal info over an email, which can be sensitive.
The solution lies in using encrypted email services. Most of these are free by default, but they also offer premium packages. The best example is ProtonMail, since it is easier to use. These services work by encrypting emails and requiring the receiver to have a password to unlock the message.
We all know about Edward Snowden, and he also used anonymous email services, which speaks in favor of their importance and capability of protecting the users. Snowden used Lavabit, a platform that went to great lengths to protect their users. That even included shutting down when the government tried forcing them to hand private user keys.
Change Phone Settings and App Permissions
You might be doing everything right on your PC, but it is your phone that’s compromising your anonymity. Smartphones are connected to the internet constantly, which is why you should be careful about the information you are sharing.
After you install an app, it usually asks for various permissions from you. It might even be reasonable for WhatsApp and Viber to have access to your contacts (although you always have safer alternatives). But why would a simple newspaper app have access to your gallery of photos? Does a random game need access to your microphone and location? Why would they need to know who your friends are?
Be careful when giving permissions to new apps. As for those you have already installed, here is how to check the permissions.
- Enter Settings on your phone and then choose Apps.
- Wait for a minute until all the apps load. Pick the app to manage specific permissions for it.
- Click on permissions, and you will see what you allowed to a particular app. You should deactivate everything that is not absolutely necessary.
It takes a bit more effort to manage app permissions on iOS, but it is still easy.
- Start by accessing Settings and choosing the Privacy section. Scan the apps to see which permissions they have and deactivate anything you don’t consider mandatory.
Head to Location Services to see which apps have access to your location. Disable any software that doesn’t need that permission.
Firewall and Antivirus Can Protect You
Firewalls can be a crucial component of your protection when using the internet. That is especially true if you use a direct connection to a modem. Believe it or not, hackers are constantly trying different IP addresses to find an unprotected system they can access.
However, they will usually quickly give up and move on if they encounter a firewall. The task of these tools is to form a wall around your network to protect it from trespassing.
Windows Firewall is the default solution on Windows 10, and it does a fine job at basic protection. You can also purchase Zonealarm or other premium solutions. It is possible to get a security suite that would include both a firewall and an antivirus.
Antivirus programs are often equipped to recognize malware and adware that compromise your privacy and anonymity. It is vital to perform checks regularly with your antivirus. That way, you can discover any potential threats to your PC on time and keep your data safe.
Don’t Install any Unknown Files
We can’t stress this enough – you should never install anything that comes from an unreliable source! People often make this mistake on both their PCs and phones, which is how their operating systems get infected. That also compromises anonymity and might send your sensitive information to dangerous parties.
Be careful about ads popping while browsing the web. A pop-up might offer to allow installation to proceed, but that is just a hoax that tries to scam you into installing adware or a virus. Never open attachments that don’t come from a person you know, or you are unfamiliar with what they might be about.
You should particularly be careful with EXE files. Those are the ones that require executing an installation. You could face an entire system crash in minutes after installing a dangerous app.
Hide Location in Your Browser
Your browser allows the option of sharing your location with the websites you visit. Some sites only use this for statistics, but others could abuse it for tailoring ads and other bad purposes. That is why it is best for your anonymity to hide the location in your browser.
In most internet browsers, you will have the Location tab under Settings or Privacy. You can choose between the browser asking you each time someone wants to know your location or disabling all location sharing services at once. The latter is easier and better for you, but if you prefer to have the option, you can also choose the former.
Try Tails OS
Our final advice is an extreme one, but it is also an excellent way to maximize anonymity. We are talking about a TAILS operating system. That is an abbreviation for The Amnesiac Incognito Live System.
Here is how it works – you install the system on a USB flash drive. That way, you take it anywhere with you. Once you insert the drive in a device, TAILS opens up with the Tor browser installed. That browser will ensure to keep your browsing private.
At the same time, TAILS will ensure there are no traces on the computer you were using. You will take everything with you once you pull out the drive from the PC.
TAILS is based on Linux, and it is fairly simple and easy to use. It is free for anyone who wants to download it.
Internet anonymity is a touchy subject. The ultimate conclusion is that you have the right to remain anonymous or choose how anonymous you want to be. We hope that our guide helped you to learn how to protect yourself better when surfing the web. As long as you invest a bit of effort, it will be easy to boost anonymity and use the internet more securely!