We give you essential tips and tools for hiding your IP address and surfing the web in blissful anonymity.
They say no one can hear you scream in space, but if you so much as whisper on the Web, you can be tracked by a dozen different organizations and recorded for posterity. Simply visiting a website can allow its operators to figure out your general physical location, identify details about your device information, and install advertising cookies that can track your movements around the web. (Don’t believe me? Check this out.)
Not everyone likes the idea of having his or her entire digital lives scraped, analyzed and (in countries with restrictive regimes) controlled outright by third parties. So please consider the following tools and tips, which will hide your IP address and have you surfing the web in blissful anonymity in no time.
Knowing is half the battle
There are a few crucial tidbits you should know before you start down the path to online anonymity. First, it’s important to know how anonymizing proxies work so you can understand their inherent flaws. Anonymizers act as a man in the middle while you’re browsing the web, handling communications between your PC and the website you want to access anonymously. If you do everything correctly, the target website only sees information from the anonymizing service, so it can’t identify your home IP address or other personal information.
While the websites that you’re browsing won’t have any idea who you are, the man-in-the-middle anonymizing services certainly will (and some proxy services keep server logs of user activity that can be subpoenaed). For these reasons, it’s important to do your research before you pick a proxy service.
Furthermore, websites can access data stored by browser plugins to try and track down your actual IP address. Media-playing plugins such as Flash are notorious for passing along more user data than is necessary, so stick to a plugin-free browsing experience if you’re concerned about third-party programs sharing information about you or your PC.
Speaking of browsers, you might want to set aside a second browser on your PC that you use solely for your anonymous activities. Most anonymizer services still allow websites to place cookies on your computer by default, and if you use the same browser for both everyday activities and the browsing you want to keep anonymous, websites could theoretically use those cookies to identify you.
To avoid this, download a second web browser (Chrome and Firefox are great choices) and change your anonymous browser’s settings to wipe cookies every time you close the browser. If you’re worried about local users snooping on your Internet exploits, be sure to use your browser’s Private or Incognito mode so anyone who opens your browser won’t be able to check the history and see where you’ve been.
Finally, this probably doesn’t need to be said, but if you log into a website using a username/password combination, the website administrators can track you regardless of whether you’re using an anonymizer service. If you need to log in to a website to tap into its full features, see if BugMeNot has a generic login available for the site.
Got it? Good! Let’s dig into the various anonymizing tools at your disposal.