We all like to think that we are anonymous on the internet. That our actions are our own, and that nobody knows who we are or what we do while we are online. While the internet was developed with this in mind, nothing can be further from the truth these days.
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The state of your online privacy is bad. Really bad. There are all kinds of dangers online that can jeopardize your privacy and anonymity. Every website uses trackers, cookies, and alike, to follow your actions, determine how much time you spent on the site, and which pages you were viewing. Government agencies are tracking all of their citizens, and even your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can watch and record everything you do online.
Social networks, like Facebook, are known for doing this as well and then selling your data to advertisers, who use it for creating ads. They target you with specific ads which they believe you might find useful, which, in turn, increases their sales.
In short, online anonymity and privacy are mostly a myth these days. However, there are methods and precautions that you can use to make those myths a reality. Here are some suggestions that might let you become anonymous on the web once more.
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1. Use a VPN
The best way to stay not only anonymous but also secure while browsing online is to use a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it is basically an app provided by VPN services.
These apps allow you to stay secure online by shielding your traffic from view and hiding things such as your identity, location, and more. They use secure protocols to create secure tunnels through which your online traffic can go unobserved. They also encrypt your traffic so that no one can know what they are looking at, even if they somehow get their hands on it.
Finally, VPNs use large server networks to hide your identity. Their servers are located in multiple countries around the world. By connecting to one of these servers, your own IP address — the source of information about your identity — gets replaced by an address owned by the VPN service.
As a result, the websites you are visiting will be recording the location of the server, believing it to be yours, while your real location and identity remain protected.
Of course, there are many VPN services out there, and the quality and number of their security features can vary quite a bit. Some of the best ones are VPNs like ExpressVPN or NordVPN. Both offer very strong protection, extremely large server networks, and excellent speeds. Speeds are important, as VPNs tend to slow down your internet. This is a consequence of having your traffic encrypted, but a small price to pay in exchange for complete online anonymity and security. They also won’t keep logs regarding your online actions, which is not something that every VPN can promise.
2. Browse in incognito mode
While most of us tend to go around with our smartphones in our pockets and use the internet on our phones — you might end up in a situation where you have to use someone else’s computer. If you have to do it for personal browsing, you might want to use the incognito mode. That way, your browsing history will not be recorded, and you won’t have to worry about your login credentials accidentally being saved on someone else’s computer.
Of course, this is not enough to be fully anonymous, as the ISP will still be able to see what you are doing, and so will everyone else who might be monitoring that computer or network. But, this method will prevent you from exposing your accounts and online actions to those who come to use that particular computer after you are done with it.
3. Use a privacy search engine
Most of us have used Google ever since we were first introduced to the internet. Google has rarely failed us, and in 99% of cases, it delivers excellent search results, no matter what it is that you are looking for. However, Google doesn’t do it for free.
Sure, you can use it without paying any money in exchange. You can even use its Gmail, Drive, Calendar, and other products. But, do you know that Google is recording all of the data it can get its hands on? Every letter you ever typed into its search engine is recorded and stored on its servers.
Your documents stored in its Google Drive are all available to the company. Not to mention the fact that it is tracking your phone, and that it knows your location. This is why you must change your search engine if you wish to aviod having your data recorded. There are plenty of alternatives, such as StartPage, which delivers Google’s search results but doesn’t let Google know who asked for them.
Another great choice is DuckDuckGo. While it uses a silly name, this search engine delivers just as great results, but it won’t record anything about you. This will not be enough to be completely private on the web, but every little bit helps.
4. Use anonymous browsers
While we are at the topic of Google, do you use Google Chrome for browsing the internet? You know that it is every bit as intrusive as Google search engine itself, right? This is why you must say goodbye to Chrome if you wish to be truly anonymous.
But, which browser to use? Safari? Firefox? Opera? While anything is better than Chrome when it comes to your privacy and anonymity, we recommend using the Tor browser. This is a special anonymity browser that operates on its own network of nodes — computers that are connected into a world-wide network — and by using it, you can stay completely anonymous.
Whenever you send an information request, such as typing in the website URL, that request goes across hundreds or even thousands of nodes. It jumps from one of them to another, and by the time the process has ended, no one will be able to tell which computer had sent the original request. Of course, this does have its downsides. There is a noticeable delay when it comes to entering websites, due to the nature of the process. But, just like with VPNs — you would be completely anonymous, and using it is worth suffering small delays.
5. Avoid cloud storage and social media
As mentioned when we talked about Google Drive, cloud storages are not really very safe, if you wish to keep your privacy and anonymity. Sure, your data will likely be safe from intruders such as hackers — cloud storage providers do know how to defend themselves — but the providers themselves are a threat to your privacy.
It is best to avoid storing sensitive documents on cloud storages, as you never know whether or not they are truly going to respect your privacy.
Also, what we talked about when we mentioned Facebook storing all of your data is true for pretty much any social network. Social networks are free to use, meaning that they must make a profit in some other way. Most of them make a profit by working with advertisers. They publish other companies’ ads, and supply them with your information, so that the companies will know your interests, and what kind of ads to target you with.
Not to mention the fact that far too many of us are posting a lot of personal data on our social networks. Whether you want to use them as your online diary, or you like posting this data to impress your friends — social networks know everything about you. They know where you are at any given time by tracking and tagging your location. They know who you hang out with by offering you to tag people in photos. They know when you are on vacation, where you work, and even when your birthday is.
And we are giving them all of this data freely, which must stop if we want to be truly anonymous.
6. Check your app permissions
Finally, you should check your app permissions, and see what each of them asked to access. Whenever you download a new app, it briefly displays a screen with permissions that it requires. We never pay much attention to that — we just hit OK, as we want to use the app.
However, if you do it automatically like that, without even looking, how can you know what you agreed to?
There are many apps that ask way more permissions than they should ever be granted. Why should a social network app have access to your phone calls and texts? Why should a calendar know your location at any given time? Why should a wallpaper app have access to your contacts?
These apps gather data about you just like social networks and Google, and you must limit what they can access. Sometimes, that might mean that the app won’t work properly. It is better to cut your losses and simply don’t use it than to have its developers spy on you at all times.