It can be incredibly hard to be anonymous online these days. Every company that has an online asset you might use has an incentive to gather your data. Big data is big money, and you get big data by collecting little breadcrumbs of data left by regular people. However, those crumbs can easily become slices and whole loaves of data if you are not careful. Knowing what to share, who to share it with, what types of software to use, and how to set it up is crucial if you want to stay anonymous online and protect your privacy.
Stay Away from Mainstream Operating Systems
Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems are very convenient, but they are far from being developed with privacy as a priority. When Microsoft’s latest offering, Windows 10, launched, it was hit with an incredible amount of criticism for the way it handled privacy. So what are your options?
In general, Live OSs, operating systems you can boot from an external device, are a good option. Setting up virtual machines on your computer that reset after each use can also be helpful. You can also use Qubes, the “reasonably secure operating system,” which protects your privacy by strict compartmentalization.
Change How Your Connect to the Internet
In lieu of hundreds of open networks that will allow you to connect in a different way every time you want to access the Internet, a virtual private network would be your best choice for anonymously connecting to the Internet. VPNs change your IP address and associated data, making it much harder to identify and track you.
On the downside, VPNs are known to store data about their users, and do even worse things that might compromise your privacy and security. Not all of them are bad though. Before subscribing to a VPN, make sure you visit websites like BeProductive to research your options.
Change How You Browse the Internet
Probably the most anonymizing option for browsing is the Tor browser. It works by routing your traffic through a number of nodes that make it more difficult to follow your steps online. It also gives you plenty of tips on how to make yourself less identifiable while online.
If you don’t want to use Tor, you should still try to browse as safely as possible. Using private browsing options that exist in most modern browsers is a good idea, as is always accessing websites through HTTPS. You should also avoid installing browser plugins, because many of them will gather your data and make you more identifiable.
Try Not to Use Your Credit Cards as Much
Four out of five Americans shop online. It is convenient, it is easy, and it looks reasonably safe. However, there is a whole underlying pool of problems with online shopping, including the fact that you can’t do it in an anonymous way.
Your credit card company, PayPal, and plenty of other payment processors will gather your purchase data. And they will sell it to interested third parties, most usually advertisers. So if you wanted to be anonymous online, you would have to give up online shopping.
Ditch the Big Search Engines
Google, Yahoo, and Bing are search engines that are in the business of letting you search the Web and collecting your browsing data in the process. And while some of that data might be anonymized in a way that would make it impossible to identify you based on it, you shouldn’t put a lot of trust in their diligence.
Instead, you should opt for a safe search engine that won’t track you. DuckDuckGo is currently probably the best known of the search engines that don’t track user behavior. You might not get as many results as you do with Google, but you can rest assured that the search engine did not track you while you were using it.
It’s neither easy nor convenient to use the Internet in an anonymous or private way. However, the more effort you put into it, the closer you will be to being fully anonymous. And you’ll have to accept that there is a trade off — privacy and functionality are often at odds with one another. But that should be your choice to make.