Sometimes it seems like every detail of our lives is out there on the internet. Between the governments checking up on what you do, to your internet service provider seeing your information, to sites like Facebook sharing your information to third-party marketing agencies, and more—well, it seems like Big Brother knows everything about us at this point. There are many reasons why someone might wish to remain anonymous online. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something illegal either—maybe you just value your privacy or maybe you’re trying to access a site that’s geo-restricted.
If this is something you’re looking to do, here are ten tips:
Turn On Private Browsing
This is probably the easiest option on the list since most browsers have a function that will allow you to do this—go to your browser settings and you should be able to turn it on. Doing this will make it so your internet history and cookies are not stored on your computer. However, websites will still be able to track you using your IP address, so really all this helps you do is hide your activity from someone using the same computer as you.
Speaking of safer browsing practices, you should also be using HTTPS, the encrypted version of HTTP. It’s more secure and does a better job of protecting your privacy, and although many sites default to HTTP, you can actually use HTTPS with any site. Just throw this extension on your browser and you won’t have to manually change the URL every time.
Use Better Passwords
If you don’t want anyone getting into your myriad of online accounts (email, social networking, etc.), you’re going to want to make sure you’re using a password that is difficult to hack—and ideally, a different password for each site. A good password should contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters and should be totally random—no birthdays, words, etc. Having a hard time remembering them? You may want to use a password manager.
Limit the Details Available
If you want to stay anonymous online, you should do your best to limit the details that you put out there. Maybe you don’t want to give up your social networking accounts, but know that these are leaking information about you, often for marketing purposes. The more information you put on your profile, the less anonymous you become, especially if you link your Facebook, Twitter, or other account to other websites across the internet.
It’s not just your social networking activity that’s being monitored, though: your emails likely are as well. Of course, your email provider likely isn’t actually reading your emails, but they are looking for keywords to help with target advertising—I’ll let you decide whether it’s better or worse that they’re ignoring the context of the things you say. If you use encryption software, the only person who can read your emails is the intended recipient.
Investigate Your Options
We all know the big names in search engines and cloud storage, but oftentimes these companies do little to protect your privacy. If you don’t want Google to follow all your browsing history, you might be better off using a search engine like DuckDuckGo, which won’t track you. Or if you’re worried about Dropbox checking out the files that you’re sharing, you might prefer to use a cloud service like Spideroak or a file-sharing service like Onionshare, which do the job without looking at what you’re sharing.
Use a Proxy
Using a proxy on your browser allows you to spoof your IP address, hiding your true location. The proxy acts as an intermediary between your computer and the site that you’re accessing, meaning that the site receives less information about you. They’re easy to install in the Extensions or Add-Ons part of your browser. Bonus: because you’re hiding your location, you’ll also be able to access sites that are geo-restricted.
Use a VPN
One of the best ways to remain anonymous online is to use a VPN, or virtual private network. As with a browser-based proxy, this will allow you to hide your location, but you’ll also have a far more secure connection than you would with a simple browser-based proxy. Furthermore, a VPN will provide this encryption for not just your internet browsing but for your programs and applications as well (eg. Skype or email clients). There are plenty of reasons why you should be using a VPN, and they’re pretty easy to set up—so just do it!
Clear Your Browser History and Cookies
Secure Your Smartphone Too
Remember that securing your internet browser and computer is only the first step of the process. If you’ve got a smartphone as well, you’ll need to give some thought to that as well: lots of your personal information is shared every time you use apps, even beyond your browser app. You can use a VPN for your smartphone as well, and you’ll want to make sure that your security software is up-to-date. (This all goes for tablets as well!)
Although you might feel some trepidation about how much information is available about you online, there are some easy steps you can take to limit the information you’re putting out there and further limit who has access to that information. Of course, unless you totally eschew all technology, it may be impossible to go totally incognito on the internet, but that said, you might as well make use of the tools available to you to ramp up your privacy and protect your anonymity as best you can!