Protect your digital identity with these four easy steps to online anonymity
When data and privacy scandals are a daily occurrence in the news, learning how to secure your identity online is essential.
This guide will help you learn ways to gain anonymity for the majority of your web-based communications and activities. But before we get started, it should go without saying that if you’re trying to stay anonymous, you shouldn’t use your real name when creating any online account. That’s the first step to take with your social media accounts.
Once that’s done, here are the four levels of anonymity we’d recommend next.
LEVEL 1: BROWSE IN PRIVATE WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Browsing in private mode is simplest thing you can do to make some of your general internet usage a bit more anonymous.
Here’s how it works: You leave cookies every time you visit a website. These cookies are stored on your computer and hold a modest amount of data based on what websites you’ve visited, allowing other web pages to deliver an experience tailored to you. That could be Facebook showing you an ad for that new MacBook you searched for on Google, or YouTube seeing that you’ve been looking up videos about the new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 phone. These cookies can be used to create a unique fingerprint based on the data that’s been collected.
Just browse in private mode to avoid all that. All modern browsers have a private browsing feature, including on mobile.
LEVEL 2: AVOID GOOGLE (OR BING OR YAHOO)
Google, Bing, and Yahoo might be the three most popular search engines, but the trio also collects the most data about you in order to serve relevant ads and personalize services. Especially when logged in with your account, these search engines can collect your name, email address, birthday, gender, and phone number. Asides from that, Google and Bing can also collect important data such as device location, device information, IP address, and cookie data.
To avoid being tracked when searching on the web, we recommend you use a service like DuckDuckGo. This an independent search engine which doesn’t give you personalized search results. Everyone who searches sees the same results, and anything you search for won’t be collected or stored. The search engine also claims it has nothing to sell to advertisers, which means you won’t ever be subject to targeted ads seen when using Google and other websites.
LEVEL 3: HIDE YOUR IP ADDRESS
The next important thing you can do to stay anonymous is to hide your IP address, which is the easiest way to trace online activity back to you. If someone knows your IP address, they can easily determine the geographic location of the server that hosts that address and get a rough idea of where you’re located. Broadly speaking, there are three ways to obscure your IP address and hide your location.
First off, you can use a proxy server. If you want all of your online activity to be anonymous, the best way to do it is to pretend to be someone else. This is basically what a proxy server does: It routes your connection through a different server so your IP address isn’t so easy to track down. You also can use a virtual private network (VPN). For most intents and purposes, a VPN obscures your IP address just as well as a proxy does – and in some cases even better. A VPN is a private network that uses a public network (usually the internet) to connect remote sites or users together.
Finally, you can use TOR. Short for The Onion Router, TOR is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Browsing with TOR is a lot like simultaneously using hundreds of different proxies that are randomized periodically.
LEVEL 4: USE ANONYMOUS EMAIL AND COMMUNICATION
Using proxies, VPNs, and TOR will obscure your IP address from prying eyes, but sending emails presents a different anonymity challenge. Let’s say you want to send somebody an email, but you don’t want them to know your email address. Generally speaking, there are two ways to go about this.
The first is to use an alias. An alias is essentially a forwarding address. When you send mail through an alias, the recipient will only see your forwarding address, and not your real email. Since all mail is forwarded to your regular inbox, this method will keep your real email address secret, but it will not, however, keep you from being spammed like crazy.
Secondly, you can use a disposable email account. This can be done in two ways: Either you can just create a new email account with a fake name and use it for the duration of your needs or you can use a disposable email service. These services work by creating a temporary forwarding address that is deleted after a certain amount of time, so they’re great for signing up for stuff on sites you don’t trust and keeping your inbox from being flooded with spam.
Also, using a VPN and communicating through an anonymous email address will keep your identity hidden, but it still leaves open the possibility of your emails being intercepted through a middleman. To avoid this, you can encrypt your emails before you send them using HTTPS in your web-based email client, which adds SSL/TLS encryption to all your communications. For webchats, you also can consider using TOR chat or Crytopchat, which are encrypted chat services that are hard to break.
So, there you have it, a simple four level guide to staying anonymous online. Some of these methods might be more extreme than others, but all put you in control of your privacy and should give you an extra peace of mind when browsing the web.