How to Browse Anonymously and Safely in 5 StepsUpdated: February 13, 2019
There are a lot of reasons nowadays to wanna keep yourself anonymous online. Having your private data stolen, being hacked, or being spammed with advertisments are just some of the risks you are exposed to.
I’m glad you’re interested to find out how to browse anonymously as we should be more concerned about our online privacy for multiple reasons.
A great part of our lives now takes place in the online world.
We use the internet to pay our bills, check our credit cards, shopping, and socializing. Moreover, we create accounts on various websites, including platforms that call for real and private information, a health care provider for example.
Such large amounts of data represent a great opportunity for theft and it should raise a great concern for our data safety and online security.
In a study conducted in 2017, 64% of Americans reported they experienced at least one type of data theft. To portray how thin cybersecurity can be, the same study found out that 41% of American adults have noticed fraudulent charges on their credit card and 35% had their personal information compromised. Social accounts are no safer either with 16% of the subjects having their email account hacked and 13% falling prey to social media hacking. And it can get more serious than this. 14% of Americans report that someone attempted to take a loan or line of credit in their name.
The risks you are vulnerable to online, decrease significantly when you turn to anonymously web browsing. And if you’re wondering how to browse anonymously, you’ll find the answer in this post.
If you’re not convinced yet why you should browse the web anonymously and maintain your online privacy, the following reasons might change your mind.
Let’s start with the most common way of tracking your online activities - browser cookies.
You might’ve noticed how the advertisements you see when surfing the web are directly related to your online browsing. It’s like someone is reading your mind, isn't it? That’s because the web pages you access actually track your browsing history and save it in some files called cookies. The data is stored in a simple text file, so if this information is sent unencrypted over a weak network, anyone that wants to steal this data is able to read it. Meaning your private information is exposed, including your browsing history, credit card information, and accounts credentials.
The fact that the government might be spying on your online activity is not news.
Scandals on this matter go back to 2013 when the NSA surveillance program known as Prism came to light, revealing that the US National Security Agency tracked the online communications from the servers of nine internet firms, including Google and Facebook. Similar online tracking activities also occurred in Britain in 2014 when GCHQ managed to gather even more data than the US did, monitoring up to 600 million communications every day.
Not to mention, these activities came to our knowledge only because there were people from inside who leaked information to the media, which ended up with them being accused of espionage.
We have no idea of what other secret surveillance programs are going on. And even if you don’t have something illegal to hide from the government, knowing that someone has all the data about your online activity is not a satisfying thought.
Just think that someone might know every website you accessed, all the files you downloaded, every account you created, and every place you physically visited. Kinda creepy, isn’t it?
Technology is arising, and we have no idea what they can do with the information in the future. Given the greed of men for power, there’s a great chance all our data will be misused. This is another reason for you to set up for untraceable web browsing and browse anonymously.
Did you know that there are ways webmasters can get your browsing history and track your online activities even if you deleted the cookies?
Well, you should know that this is possible and you too are exposed to fall prey to the fingerprinting-sniffing technique. Websites can abuse HSTS protections to find your browser history, and can even trace your online behavior by pinning a unique text to each visitor that will act as a browser cookie. Needless to say, even if you delete all your cookies, the pinned unique text will survive and keep on tracing your steps.
Somebody that’s a bit knowledgeable in the field of hacking, can use some simple tools to find your IP address, location, browser cache, cookies - basically everything about your internet activity. It can even go as far as gaining access to your hard drive and personal files. This puts all your accounts, passwords, and even banking information at risk.
Even though the most skilled hackers are often targeting bigger prays, it doesn’t mean that you, as a non-public individual, can’t also have your data stolen. There are hackers randomly choosing their prays, and there might be people looking to get revenge at you (either real life acquaintances or online folks who targeted you such as after leaving a comment on a social media platform).
Now that you know what risks you expose yourself to without online anonymity, let’s see how to browse anonymously from now on so you hold on to your online privacy.
The first thing you want to do if you want to browse anonymously is to delete and disable cookies.
As I stated above, cookies are text files that save data about your online activity, passwords, and other information, compromising your online privacy.
You want to start by accessing your browser’s settings and delete all the cookies, cache, and browsing history.
You can also set up your browser to not allow websites to save cookies for further anonymous online surfing.
Because of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that came into effect on May 25th, 2018, if you’re browsing the internet from an EU (Europe Union) country, the websites are required to ask for your permission to save cookies or any personal data. Pay attention to what you agree on when accessing the websites.
Your geographic location is sent to the websites you visit by almost all browsers. While the intention for tracking your location is to offer you a more personalized online experience (for example, your location lets Google give you nearby locations for restaurants), there are websites or advertisers who will misuse this information.
To keep your location private from snooping eyes, make sure you deny the requests to use your location on websites where this pops up. If you never see any pop-ups asking for your approval to use the location, your browser can be set up to either share the location automatically or to never share it.
Access your browser's privacy settings and make sure the location feature is set up to always ask for your permission to use the location or disable using the location all together. This will get you one step closer to how to browse anonymously.
When you’re logged log into search engines, you automatically let those search engines collect data about your browsing history and online activity.
The biggest example here is Google. **Google knows more about you than anyone. **Probably more than your mother knows. Just think of all the Google services that connect with each other: Google search, Gmail, Google+, YouTube, Calendar. They are tracking your data on all the services and build a profile of you. They know who you are, what you’ve been up to, and exactly what you like. If you’d know how many data Google stores about its users, especially about yourself, you’d probably get a bit creeped out.
For now, there’s no actual reason to fear Google will use the data it collects against you as their intentions are good. They store such a great amount of data about its users so they can offer a better online experience. The more Google knows about your online behavior, the more specific it can be with the results it shows you when you search for something and the advertisements it displays - its aim is to offer a personalized experience for every user.
Still, I’ll let you think about a quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
"With your permission, you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches. We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about.”
Mind that this quote is from 2010. How much have they improved their data collecting algorithms since then?
You probably heard about the incognito mode feature you find in internet browsers.
The incognito privacy mode blocks your browser from keeping track of your search history. Meaning the browsers won’t track cookies and will not save your web history in their cache.
How to get incognito?
All major browsers have this feature, including Google, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. You can access an incognito window by opening up the browser, clicking on the hamburger button in the top right corner, and selecting “New Incognito (Private) Window” from the drop-down menu. The keyboard shortcut for the incognito window is usually Ctrl+Shift+N (Command+Shift+N on MAC), and Ctrl+Shift+P on Firefox.
Even though using the incognito mode gives you some kind of browsing anonymity, it’s far from being the perfect approach. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and the government can still track your online activity. Not to mention that your IP is still visible to everyone, including to the websites you visit.
Another approach on how to browse anonymously is to use DuckDuckGo. It is a search engine designed to show people you can still have privacy online.
They don’t store your browser history and personal information. And because they don’t store your search history, you don’t need to worry about advertisers collecting your information either.
While they still don’t have their own web browser for desktop, you can make use of their services to browse anonymously in two ways. You can either access their homepage where you’ll find a search bar similar to the Google bar where you can input your search queries. Or, you can add the extensions to your browsers. On mobile, things get even easier because they have browsers both for Android and iOS.
Using a VPN is the most efficient way of how to browse anonymously. A VPN server does more than just disabling cookies and clearing cache. With a VPN you can change your IP address, hide your browsing activity, and even route the whole internet activity through a remote server.
A reliable VPN service is your best bet for private browsing and internet anonymity.
Moreover, using a VPN has more benefits besides online anonymity. Because you change your real IP, you’ll be able to access geo-restricted websites, get over internet restrictions in workplaces and schools, get better deals, watch Netflix from wherever you are, and much more.
When you choose a VPN service pay attention to the following aspects:
It’s not free - This is one point you don’t want to hear, but you must. Free VPN services are vulnerable, and you have no idea about the data they log about your browsing activity and you have no guarantee they won’t misuse this data.
They keep no logs - A crucial aspect of a reliable VPN service is for it to keep no logs of your online activity. If they do, they can share it with third-parties in certain situations.
They have a kill switch - You might be in a situation when you browse the web anonymously using a VPN, and the connection to the VPN server drops. At that moment, your data stops being encrypted and your online anonymity is gone. To avoid such cases, trustworthy VPN services have a kill switch that will automatically kill your internet connection if the VPN server goes down so you don’t expose yourself online by accident.
You can start by taking a look over the DrSoft VPN software.
Disable tracking - Open up your browser’s privacy settings and turn on the "Do not track" feature. While it won’t stop all the websites from tracking your online activity, it will minimize the amount of data they collect.
Disable plugins - Browser plugins are an easy way for malware to reach a browser so make sure you disable any suspicious plugin and the ones you rarely use. Also, keep in mind that plugins like Adobe Flash and Java are well known for exposing private data (such as IP addresses) to websites.
**Pay with digital currency - **Unlike credit cards, digital currencies are not giving identifying details about you. While there are ways for someone to track the spendings back to you, it’s way harder than getting your banking information.
**Use HTTPS Everywhere - **HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension for Chrome, Mozilla, and Opera. The extension pushes the websites you visit to use an HTTPS connection instead of HTTP (if the website supports HTTPS), making it for a more secure online browsing experience.
As you’ve seen in this post, we expose ourselves, our personal information, and online activities to third-parties on a daily basis without even realizing.
I hope you now know how to browse anonymously from now on without the risk of being hacked or spammed by unwanted advertisers. The safest way to surf the web anonymously is to use a reliable VPN service.
Keep following our posts if you want to learn more tips on how to maintain your online privacy.