How to browse the internet anonymously?

Anton P. | March 8, 2021

The desire to browse the internet anonymously directly addresses the spiraling concerns people express online. We are no longer comfortable with the quantity of information we leave behind, either by choice or involuntarily. Even seemingly minor details can identify our habits and identities. Thus, it prompts users to look for options rendering them as nameless visitors of the digital space. Additionally, data-related scandals underline just how little consumers know about their data and its use. Vague privacy policies, recurrent data misuse, and data breaches also motivate users to go off the grid. If you decide to browse the internet anonymously, you are welcome to explore the available options.

Why should you try to browse the internet anonymously?

The aim to browse the internet anonymously means that you dissociate yourself from the browsing paths you take. Ideally, the web would have little to no opportunities to trace specific browsing data back to you. The harsh truth is that your browsing is far from private or anonymous. Online trackers continuously capture data and compile profiles on users. This information turns the wheels of the internet, but its use does not always coincide with a pro-privacy agenda.

The first entity to get a front-row seat to your browsing is your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Everything you do online, how much time you spend, and the content you open are details visible to ISPs. However, these companies can be even more drastic and sell the accumulated details to other third parties. Thus, ISPs can keep logs of your every digital move and market it as goods to any interested party.

Besides ISPs, many other online entities have an appetite for your browsing data. Governments, ad networks, social media sites, and apps all participate in tracking your digital routines. There can be upsides to such practices, as people might prefer seeing personalized ads instead of random ones. However, for the most part, netizens feel uneasy about their personal experiences potentially influencing the ads they encounter.

After all, browsing is not all about finding vague information for research papers. It can reflect our emotional states, interests, gender, political views, and even health conditions. Hence, the demand for anonymous internet browsing is an increasing trend, with many people gradually realizing the scope of data collected.

Privacy vs. anonymity online

It is also important to emphasize the difference between privacy and anonymity. In terms of privacy, a great example would be the encryption of our communications on instant messaging apps. In such a case, the app secures our privacy by preventing external entities (or the app itself) from reading what you wrote. However, anonymous internet browsing has a slightly different meaning. It is not necessarily that you wish to conceal your actions in the digital space. It simply means that you do not want them associated with you. In many cases, people end up sharing details that could serve as means of identifying specific individuals.

What can your browsing reveal about you?

Anonymous internet browsing means that you limit the personal data harvested by various web entities. Online browsing histories are like full records of our digital lives. Each visit or search reveals a lot and might supply information about our offline activities as well.

For instance, looking for various items online is a typical quest we take on daily. However, we also visit the web to find information on politics or particular health symptoms for possible diagnoses or solutions. Every online action we make is an insight into our identity, both online and beyond. Thus, it becomes critical to reduce our digital footprints as much as possible. Learning how to browse the internet anonymously is a big part of that goal.

Linking browsing to specific individuals

As soon as you open any website, it will automatically retrieve specific information about you. It can learn users’ rough locations, operating systems, device types, installed plug-ins, set languages, or recognize returning visitors. The web equips multiple technologies such as cookies, fingerprinting, tracking pixels, and IP addresses to seize data. For instance, through cookies and fingerprinting, entities can extract information on your online behavior across multiple sites. Even metadata could be the one supplying details about your device or how you use specific services.

On the plus side, companies typically try to anonymize such information. For instance, the web will presumably link your activities to unique identifiers, as seen with cookies. However, fully anonymizing data is a struggle as researchers have found ways to de-anonymize it. Also, obtaining consumer information is likely more straightforward than you think.

In 2017, researchers created a fake marketing company and contacted hundreds of companies asking for users’ browsing data. The official reason for procuring it was to test machine-learning algorithms. The experiment went flawlessly, with data brokers supplying necessary information without much questioning. However, the researchers were then able to de-anonymize certain users from a list of seemingly unrelated URLs and timestamps. This test illustrated how easy it might be to link our browsing habits to our identities. Additionally, it showed that obtaining browsing data is a relatively easy task.

How to browse the internet anonymously?

There is no cure-all solution that would allow you to browse the internet anonymously. Typically, it is a combination of measures that minimize online tracking and data exposure. Here are some of the most effective solutions leading to more anonymous internet browsing. They should help you reduce the quantity of information you end up broadcasting online.

Is Incognito mode enough?

Many browsers offer private browsing modes, but they rank low on the effectiveness scale. Yes, it is better than nothing as Incognito modes prevent browsers from storing browsing data and cookies. However, it does not necessarily prevent tracking initiated by external sources. Websites, ISPs, marketers, and employers will still be able to perform a certain degree of snooping. Going incognito might be a one-off solution to quickly run a search you do not want logged by browsers. However, its long-term use won’t be as productive as you might assume.

Block third-party cookies

Disabling or regularly deleting cookies is a great practice. These small files exist on your browser and contain identifiers unique to you. As a result, advertisers and websites remember you and the actions you have performed before. However, please note that the general recommendation is to block third-party cookies (tracking cookies). First-party cookies contribute to the content websites load and their features overall.

Use ad-blockers

Popular ad-blockers can stop promotional content from loading on your screen. If you have such protection enabled, you will also be able to see what it blocks on each website. While it won’t necessarily improve anonymity, ad blockers are beneficial for limiting the quantity of intrusive ads.

Change your browsing habits

If you wish to be nameless online, you cannot achieve it without limiting the amount of data you post voluntarily. Try to resist the temptation of being overly open about your life. Additionally, remember that every time you log in and fill forms with personal information, this defeats any anonymity. Thus, when you must create accounts, try to provide as little information as possible.

Lastly, reconsider the current search engine and browser you use. Many privacy-first options, such as Brave or DuckDuckGo, provide more secure ecosystems to enjoy digital content. Presumably, Tor is the best browser for anonymous internet browsing. However, it is rather slow, and users probably won’t turn to it for their daily activities.

Browser extensions for privacy

Anti-tracking extensions are popular for blocking trackers, mining scripts, supercookies, or canvas fingerprinting. They can be incredibly useful and prevent websites or services from identifying and tracking you. However, such tools will likely obtain information about your browsing habits. In the past, there have been instances of privacy-focused extensions selling browsing data without anonymizing it properly. Thus, ensure to read privacy policies presented to know exactly how companies will handle your data.

Boost anonymity with a VPN

Virtual Private Networks have the power to help you browse the internet more anonymously. These tools reroute your traffic through private servers and away from prying eyes. They also encrypt information about your online actions and hide your real IP address. However, no VPN will make you completely anonymous online. Such a goal is virtually impossible. Fortunately, after connecting to a VPN server, you transmit less information on your actions and location. You get to blend in with the crowd of other VPN users, which facilitates more anonymous internet browsing.

We recommend using Atlas VPN, enabling the SafeBrowse feature within it, and browsing in Incognito mode for the best results. This combination will make you mostly anonymous online.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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