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How to be anonymous online

How to be anonymous online

Monday, 3 June, 2019

There’s an interesting paradox in modern society’s approach to online anonymity.

We’re increasingly aware of how social media platforms and search engines harness our data, with a growing understanding of phishing scams and the importance of antivirus software.

Yet we’ve more reliant on the internet than ever.

Record numbers of people now possess social media accounts – the very antithesis of online anonymity.

It’s argued we don’t have a choice about surrendering personal information – and that’s true to an extent. The World Wide Web wasn’t designed with privacy in mind.

However, there are still ways to maintain online anonymity. Some require advanced planning, others cost money, and a few involve new ways of going online.

They’re equally useful whether you’re trying not to attract unwanted attention, or simply unhappy about your information being resold to faceless third parties…

Avoid social media platforms. The saying “there’s a mug in every deal, and if you can’t tell who it is, it’s probably you” perfectly sums up social media platforms.

Platforms like Facebook make huge sums selling everything they know about you to ad agencies. You can’t be anonymous on social media, so delete non-essential accounts.

Don’t submit online reviews. Tempting though it may be to troll firms who’ve given you bad experiences, attaching your name to a review leaves a footprint.

Stick to emailed correspondence or phone calls when contacting companies, rather than communicating via public platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Try to stay out of photos. This is difficult in the Instagram age, but facial recognition technology could help someone to identify you from third-party images.

Appearing in the background shouldn’t be an issue, but posing for selfies with friends might see your facial characteristics being identified by algorithmic software – even at a later date.

Use the Tor browser. As a conduit to the Dark Web, the Tor browser’s reputation precedes it. Yet it can also be used like any other World Wide Web browser.

Random data routing protocols ensure browsing sessions maintain each user’s anonymity. Tor doesn’t use personal tracking tools like cookies, or store browser history/search terms.

Connect via a VPN. If you’re not a fan of Tor’s sluggish connection speeds, a virtual private network represents another way to browse the internet anonymously.

Our sister site VPNs.co.uk provides review-based comparisons of the latest VPN providers, explaining which services each product offers.

Choose private registration on Whois. It’s a requirement to publish contact details for each website’s owner or administrator. However, that doesn’t have to be you.

Privacy protection services when registering a new domain will substitute your data for the site host or a proxy, ensuring your name isn’t publicly linked to the domain.

Register a generic email address. Incorporating personal details like your name into a new email addresses isn’t ideal for anyone keen to maintain online anonymity.

Avoid this by selecting email addresses with no personally identifiable information (PII). An address such as elephant3456@ISP.com reveals nothing about its owner.

Avoid non-HTTPS websites. Search engines often warn against visiting insecure websites, making it easier to stay off domains that don’t encrypt their contents.

Any website with HTTPS in its address bar will securely distribute encrypted data to prevent interception by third parties – a process known as man-in-the-middle attacks.

Make payments with cryptocurrencies. Our final point could severely restrict online activities, since few ecommerce sites take Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptos.

However, these untraceable digital currencies are a world away from the wealth of PII provided every time you use a debit or credit card…

Neil Cumins author picture

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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!

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