The Beginners guide to anonymous browsing (Part 1)

Tor Browsing

To some this might seem a strange concept. Why does anyone need to be anonymous online? The idea may conjure up ideas of “super hackers” breaking into high security systems and crazy conspiracy theorists wearing tinfoil hats who live in paranoia from the government.

While these may both be true, there’s many more reasons why you might want to conceal your identity. Whether you want to get away from those creepy targeted adverts, access content censored by your government, ensure your personal details aren’t sold to the highest bidder or even if you do need protection for *INNOCENT* activities (FBI: If you’re reading this, I’m just joking)

So you’ve decided to go anonymous huh? Well first off,  none of the tools and techniques we look at in this series will ever guarantee your absolute privacy. Whether true anonymity on the web is really ever achievable is a contentious topic, however the techniques here are what we have to work with right now. (Sorry for the disappointment!)

Before going into some of the more in-depth stuff though, let’s start off with some noob-level basics.

Social Media

Social Media

I really shouldn’t have to say, but seen as this is the basics, here goes. If you’re one of the people who posts everything online, you should probably be aware this doesn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with trying to stay anonymous. Remember this: if something is free, YOU are probably the product. These sites have a vested interest in gaining information about you to sell on, even if you’re not aware of it (Let’s be honest, you probably didn’t read the privacy policy) Just for example:

Using Facebook messenger? You are sending your exact location to facebook with every message sent.

Instagram knows exactly where you took every photo uploaded, regardless of whether you used geotag.

Need I go on. Am I to suggest you stop using these sites completely? Perhaps not, and for many it’s too hard a leap, however if you’re truly commited to digital privacy it’s certainly something you should consider. However if you’re not ready to ditch the site completely you can at least start with deleting your cookies.

Cookies

Internet Cookies

If you’ve ever been online you’ve probably heard of cookies, all those pop-ups and tick boxes to confirm you’ll accept them have become standard practise across most sites, but what actually are they?

In short, cookies are small text files that web servers give you to store on your computer, they allow websites to identify you every time you access their site.

What are they used for? Cookies can be used for sites to tailor their content to be more personalised to the user, such as based on their previous visit. They can also be used to track what websites you’ve visited and identify your location. Ever wondered how those adverts managed to follow you around the internet? Cookies.

The Solution? – Delete Them! By entering your browser’s settings you’ll be able to delete cookies stored on your system as well as your browsing history. You can either do this manually yourself, set your browser do this every time it closes or even set it to refuse cookies altogether

However refusing to accept cookies from sites can cause issues, what if you only want to get rid of the “bad” ones. That’s where Privacy Badger comes in, it’s a free plug-in you can install from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that blocks advertising cookies being used to track and target you across the web while still allowing harmless ones, allowing you to get the best of both!

Google isn’t your friend!

Evil Google

If you value your digital privacy, google certainly isn’t your friend. Chances are you probably use a few of Google’s services, Gmail, Youtube, Search and even Google+ (Okay maybe not that one). Guess what? Google tracks your activity on all of them (including your entire search history)  and the amount of data that can be pulled from your activity on these services helps build up a significant picture of your digital life. Google may claim this is to improve their service, but make no mistake, this is an infringement of your privacy and whether you like it or not, it’s an agreement you entered into when you signed up for your account, in fact even if you don’t have an account, you can still be being tracked based on cookies and your IP address (More on that in later parts).

What do Google want with your information? Information is money, and the more data Google can gather, the better they can target advertisements to sell. How nice, and it isn’t just Google of course either, most major sites are part of the data collection game but Google is arguably one of the most distinct seen as how much of people’s digital lives they are responsible for, most notably, their search engine which for over 90% of users is their portal to the web.

What can you do about it? For a start you can use a search engine that actually respects your rights to privacy, DuckDuckGo collect no personal data from any of your users, allowing you to search in peace, knowing your personal data is being kept private.


And so that just about brings us to the end of Part 1 in the series. Hopefully you’ve learnt something about the basics of anonymous browsing – but wait, we’re not done yet, make you check out Part 2 where we’ll look at more anonymizing techniques such as hiding your IP address.

 

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