How to Stay Anonymous Online? Is It Even Possible?
The Internet is an amazing thing when it comes to communication, learning new things, buying stuff, etc. But how about becoming anonymous?
Then it's a different story.
Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Apple and others don't want you to be anonymous. They want to know everything about and collect your data. Basically, that's how you're paying for their "free" service.
By giving up your privacy.
But do you have to or is it possible to be anonymous on the Internet?
Can you Really be Anonymous on the Internet?
According to a study by Pew Research Center, the majority of Internet users (86%) had taken some action to hide their online presence, whether using a VPN to hide their IP, signing up for encrypted email services, or simply clearing cookies and browsing incognito.
However, only 37% of users truly believe that online anonymity is possible. Compared to that, almost 2/3rds, or 59%, think it is not completely possible.
In this article, we'll show you how to stay anonymous online despite the many players on the web who are trying to pry your information out of you.
Why Do You Want to be Anonymous?
Because the Internet "remembers". For example, someone might find a photo of you drinking on Facebook and it might cost you your job. Or you might lose on an employment opportunity because of your religious or political beliefs.
Today we live in a world where one wrong tweet made 10 years ago can cost you your entire career and have an Internet mob "cancel" you.
Not to mention if your profession is such that it requires anonymity, like being a whistleblower, or being a public figure and trying to keep some privacy in your life.
As you can see, there are many reasons why you might want to be anonymous on the Internet, so let's find out how to be anonymous online.
How to Stay Anonymous Online While Internet Browsing?
Are you wondering how to stay anonymous online?
Here are a few things you can do.
1) Browse the Internet Incognito
This is usually the first thing most people do when they try to be anonymous on the Internet and it's pretty easy to do since all major browsers have an "incognito", "private" or "privacy" mode.
How to turn it on?
- Google Chrome: Ctrl+Shift+N (for Windows) or Command+Shift+N (for MacOS)
- Safari: Command+Shift+N
- Mozilla Firefox: Ctrl+Shift+P (on Windows) or Command+Shift+P (on MacOS)
However, don't expect a lot from incognito or private mode. Your IP address will still be visible and there are other reasons why browsing incognito does not make you hidden or anonymous which we explained in this "What Does Incognito Mode Do?" post.
2) Use a VPN to Hide Your IP Address
As we already said, the reason you can't be completely anonymous while using incognito is that your IP address will still be visible and can be tracked.
The solution to this is to use a VPN provider (Virtual Private Network).
What a VPN does is hide your IP address by sending your traffic through an encrypted tunnel and to a VPN server.
This way, if a website looks at your traffic, they can't tell your location since they'll see the VPN's IP instead of yours.
3) Delete Browsing Cookies
Are all cookies bad? No, but they can sometimes tell too much about your browsing habits so it's a good idea to delete them from time to time.
Remember that browser cookies do allow websites to work faster and better for you and can be useful to improve your experience on them.
However, certain cookies can be a bit too intrusive and may log sensitive information that you don't want, so be sure to delete them from time to time.
4) Block Trackers
A web tracker is a website script that is designed to learn how you interact with that site and your preferences. For instance, cookies are a type of trackers, but so are embedded scripts, super cookies and fingerprinters.
You don't even have to visit a website to pick them up. For example, ad networks will often place their trackers on a website and collect and share data about you, without your knowledge or permission.
Fortunately, there are ways to block trackers.
A lot of browsers like Safari or Firefox will block trackers by default, while on Chrome you'll have to turn the "Do Not Track" option on.
Here's how to do that:
- While in the Chrome browser click More in the top right corner
- Open Settings
- Find Privacy and Security and select Cookies and other site data
- Switch Send a "Do not track" request with your browsing traffic "On".
Will this be enough to block those annoying trackers? Probably not, especially on a web browser like Chrome, so it's also a good idea to use a browser extension like Ghostery or Privacy Badger just to be double sure that your web browsing experience is free from trackers.
5) Don't Use Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social network sites are today used by billions of people (most of us use more than one network) and they collect huge amounts of data about us.
Not only that, but every activity you make including what tweet you liked, an Instagram story you shared, Facebook video you posted and more, are all remembered and kept on file.
For instance, just go to the Settings in your Facebook and select Download a copy of your Facebook data to see what information FB collects about you.
- Your activity on Facebook
- Your personal information
- Information about your friends and followers
- Your logged information
- Security and login information
- Apps and websites off Facebook
- Ads information
This is the true price of a "free social network account".
The only way to really protect your information is to delete your account. Keep in mind that "deactivate" is not the same as "delete". If you simply deactivate an account, your data is still stored with the social network and you can still reactivate it at a later time.
This can be a good thing to do if you need some rest from Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, but to truly clear your data from it, you'll need to delete your account.
6) Use Proxy Servers
A proxy server is a server or a computer through which your online traffic can be processed between your own computer and the Internet.
For example, if you're in one country and are using a proxy server in another, then the websites you are visiting won't see your IP address and will therefore think that you are browsing from a completely different location.
Don't confuse proxy servers with VPN though. While they do mostly the same thing (allow you to browse anonymously), a proxy is really a gateway that allows you to circumvent geographical content restrictions and you want to use it if you can't log to a site or page and want to hide your IP.
On the other hand, a VPN creates a virtual tunnel that will secure and encrypt your traffic and it's something you should take advantage of if you're browsing from a public WiFi when there's a danger of someone spying on the network.
7) Install Tor Browser
The Tor browser allows you to browse through an anonymity network called "Tor network".
Tor is to uses "nodes" or "relays" to allow users to access parts of the web that are otherwise hidden, called the "deep web". Since your traffic passes through several of these nodes, it's almost impossible to determine where you are (entry node) or where your destination (exit node) is, so Tor is a great way to increase your online anonymity.
However, even though it's one of the best things to do if you are looking for how to be anonymous online, the Tor browser is not perfect, as we discussed in this "Is Tor Browser Safe and Completely Anonymous to Use?" post.
To use Tor, you'll need to download it from the Tor Project.
8) Use Privacy Web Browsers
Here are a few reasons why you should consider a privacy web browser:
- Data collection
- Cookies, tracking scripts and pixels
- IP leaks
- Browser fingerprinting
Privacy browsers will allow you to protect your online identity as well as data so it's a good idea to use them instead of regular browsers.
We already mentioned one anonymous browser, Tor, but here are some other options if you're looking for the best privacy browser for 2021.
9) Use a Privacy Search Engine
If you're visiting this page, you likely found it by typing something like "how to stay anonymous online" or a similar phrase in a search engine such as Google.
Google is great for this kind of stuff and you generally get fast and accurate search results.
However. for your privacy, you may not want the search engine to track your online behavior and search results. Instead, consider using a privacy SE like DuckDuckGo.
10) Switch to a Security Operating System
Your computer probably runs on either Windows, macOS or Linux operating system.
We are not here to debate which is better (they're all good in their way), but if you want a truly secure and private OS, consider using something like Whonix. This is an anonymous operating system that is based on Tor and allows only connections via Tor.
11) Use a Virtual Machine
Let's say need to download a file, but you're not 100% sure that it's safe. What if it infects your computer?
In that case, you can use a virtual machine. This is essentially a virtual computer that you can host with your main OS to avoid potentially infecting your computer with a key logger for instance and revealing your data to hackers.
12) Use an Encrypted Messaging Service
Messaging services like Viber and WhatsApp have all but replaced SMS in communication because you can pretty much do the same thing (send messages), but also share videos, documents and so on from the Internet.
Unfortunately, certain messaging services, like WhatsApp for instance, are not very private and they collect data from you. That's why you should use an encrypted service like Signal.
13) Use a Temporary Email Address
If you only need to send an email, but you don't necessarily need (or want) a reply from the other side, a good way to maintain your privacy is to use a temporary or disposable email address like GuerrillaMail.
This is a very good option when you have to sign up for a potentially spammy website or fill out an online form, but don't want to use your real email address.
14) Use an Encrypted Email Service
When we say, "encrypted email" we don't mean popular email providers like Gmail Yahoo or Outlook. In fact, they might go as far as to ask for your phone number to allow you to create an account.
We mean actual end-to-end encrypted email that uses PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) like CTemplar for example.
However, keep in mind that not all encrypted emails are the same. Look for a service that won't store information about your IP address, device, financial or personal information.
So if you were wondering "how can I hide my identity online completely?", here are a few options:
- Browse in incognito mode
- Use a VPN
- Delete browsing cookies
- Manage and block trackers
- Don't use or delete social media
- Use a proxy
- Use Tor
- Use a privacy browser
- Use secure search engines
- Switch to a security OS
- Use a virtual machine
- Use an encrypted messaging service
- Use a temporary or disposable email account
- Use an end-to-end encrypted email account
It's not easy and there are a lot of things you need to do, like using a VPN or a proxy to hide your IP, having an encrypted email address, being careful with social networks and perhaps using a Tor browser, but if you do these things, there is little that your Internet service provider, hackers or the government can do to find out your identity, location, or Internet history if you want it hidden.
Will you do all of these? Probably not, but while you might skip on using the Tor browser unless you absolutely need it, there's no excuse in this day and age of hackers not to use a secure email service.
Looking for a secure email provider? Sign up to CTemplar: Armored email and secure data and identity online.