What to Know
- Use a web proxy to hide your IP address, or a VPN to encrypt everything.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks like those in hotels and restaurants.
- Opt for a secure search engine that promises to block trackers and keep your search history private.
This article explains several approaches you can take to browse the web privately and techniques to remain as anonymous as you can. You don't need to significantly change how you interact with the internet to make it happen.
Ways to Browse the Web Anonymously
Staying truly 100 percent hidden on the web is next to impossible. Normal web browsing leaves your information exposed to the website owner, your ISP, the government, and whoever else can gain access. Fortunately, there are several privacy tips you can adopt to use the internet with a little more stealth.
Follow these steps ranked in order of strength of privacy and ease of use to become the ultimate anonymous browser:
Hide your IP address with a web proxy. Not all proxies are created equally, but there are several free ones that are great for browsing the web anonymously, such as Hidester.
When you access a website through a proxy, what's happening is that all the traffic is routed through a remote server before the page is downloaded onto your device. This means that your browsing appears to anyone who may be watching (the website you're on, your ISP, the government, etc.) to be originating from that server's location instead of your real location.
Connect to a VPN. A VPN is similar to a web proxy, but useful in situations where you want everything encrypted and routed through other servers, not just one website. A VPN keeps not only your browsing anonymous but also any file sharing, messaging, etc.
Something important to look for when choosing a secure VPN is whether they keep logs pertaining to your visits and your search history. If they do, there's a chance that they'll give up that information to an authority figure if demanded, or that your private details will be leaked if a hacker gets a hold of it.
A VPN will only keep you as anonymous as you let it. For example, posting things to your public social media accounts, sending emails from your primary email address, etc., will expose your identity despite the fact that you did those things while using a VPN.
Use a privacy-minded web browser. One example of an anonymous browser that hides your web surfing habits is Tor Browser, which encrypts the traffic and routes it through multiple servers.
Search the web with a secure search engine like DuckDuckGo or Startpage, which promise to block advertising trackers and keep your search history private.
Other search engines might tell the websites you're on what you were searching to get there, or share your habits with third-party companies to target you with ads, or disclose your search history to government authorities.
Avoid public Wi-Fi networks like in hotels and restaurants. It’s unclear who’s monitoring the traffic from the other side of the building, or what’s going on behind the scenes when it comes to that business’s security and privacy protocols.
In the same vein, don’t connect to a Wi-Fi network unless it’s using a modern encryption method like WPA2. To stay anonymous on Wi-Fi, make sure the network is using encryption.
Use your web browser’s private mode to prevent it from keeping track of the web pages you visited. Just close out of it when you’re done to prevent saving any passwords and history.
This anonymous browsing mode is helpful if you share your computer because the alternative is to use regular mode which does store a history of the pages you've opened and searches you performed.
Be mindful of cookies, and delete them if necessary.
Cookies are important for storing login information so that a website can give you access to your online account. However, other websites might be able to access them to expose who you are and what you've been doing online.
Other Ways to Stay Anonymous Online
Web browsing is just one facet of the online world. If you use email, a web-based texting service, a file transfer website, etc., you'll need to consider how to stay anonymous there, too.
- Use a secure email provider like ProtonMail, an anonymous email service, or a disposable email account.
- The cloud storage service you use should promise zero-knowledge encryption.
- Refrain from using your real payment information when shopping online, and instead opt for virtual cards from a service like Privacy.
- Stick to anonymous social networking sites.
- Avoid instant messaging apps that don’t support end-to-end encryption; good choices include Signal and WhatsApp.
- Set up your phone with a fake GPS location to fool apps and websites that use location tracking.
- Delete your personal information from the internet, which anyone can use to dig up information like your phone number, address, relatives, etc.
- Send texts anonymously with a website like Globfone.
- Switch up the DNS servers you’re using; opt for a company that won’t log DNS queries.
- Make calls with an app that gives you a second number that isn’t tied to your real name, or hide your number with *67.
Why Browse Anonymously?
The answer might be different for everyone, but for most people, it boils down to privacy.
If you're looking for a new job and would rather your employer not know, being more aware of your online presence can help limit what they can learn about you. Or, maybe you're searching for prescription drug information, and you don't want the website to track you or collect your real email—spamming your email isn't as helpful to them if it's not your "real" account that you check every day.
Anonymous web browsing can also be useful if you're in a country that has constraining web policies. You can hide your browsing habits to bypass access restrictions.
If for no other reason, maybe you just want to feel comfortable knowing that your internet habits aren't being tracked and logged for advertising purposes.