Browsing the internet without leaving digital footprints behind

Browsing the internet without leaving digital footprints behind

Saturday, 22 December, 2018

As Christmas approaches, internet search histories on shared devices have a nasty habit of revealing what’s under the tree.

From website cookies to browser histories and recent Google search results, it’s easy to leave digital footprints behind.

And as 2018 draws to a close, we’re more aware than ever of the risks created by using the internet – let alone social media platforms – as blithely as we used to.

There are certain circumstances where anonymous browsing would be preferable to the trail of virtual breadcrumbs we normally scatter as we explore the internet.

Browsing histories can reveal planned surprises and upcoming presents, or alert friends and relatives to things we’re not ready to discuss with them yet.

Some search results might raise embarrassing questions – especially the ones which start “Do I have” or “Can I get”.

(We’ll gloss over other reasons why anonymous browsing might be useful.)

Regardless of why privacy is so desirable, anonymous browsing tools are readily available.

Some require dedicated software, yet others will be pre-installed on your current devices and ready for deployment.

These are four of the best ways to enjoy anonymous browsing:

Use the Tor browser

Developed (and part-funded) by the American Government, Tor is beloved by pro-democracy campaigners, career criminals and everyone in between.

By randomly distributing individual data packets through numerous nodes around the world, it becomes impossible to monitor which user requested what information.

Tor is also the only entry point into the Dark Web – a mysterious world beyond the reach of search engines, where obscure .onion URLs lead to dubious (and insalubrious) websites.

However, the oblique journeys undertaken by its data packets make Tor too slow for anything more data intensive than browsing text-based websites.

Use a VPN

Our sister site lists and reviews dozens of Virtual Private Network providers.

A VPN effectively creates an encrypted connection to a remote server on the internet. Data sent to and from your device is channelled through this server while the VPN is open.

That makes it very difficult for external agencies to see what you’re doing, or identify where you are – which avoids geolocation restrictions on local radio stations, for instance.

Because data is fully encrypted, VPNs protect the data being sent and received – securing ecommerce transactions and limiting the amount of personal information you leave behind.

Use a private browsing window

The chances are high that your existing internet browser already has a safe mode or private browsing option.

It’s called Secret Mode in the default Android browser, Incognito in Google Chrome and Private Window in Mozilla Firefox.

Content accessed through these dedicated windows won’t show up in your history, and cookies will also be blocked.

Anonymity is surrendered if you sign into registered accounts. Otherwise, you’ll be free to trawl the Web without leaving digital footprints in your wake.

Use a dedicated browser

This expands on the previous suggestion, albeit involving the installation of a second web browser.

The end result will be a primary browser for day-to-day activities, with normal cookie settings, lists of stored bookmarks and moderate security permissions.

The other browser can be given much higher security settings – deleting browsing history on exit, rejecting all cookies, and so on.

Using separate browsers provides an effective way of segregating everyday activities from browsing sessions which might benefit from elevated security levels.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!