Your online actions may not be as private as you think. Countless parties attempt to follow your online behavior as closely as they can. Concerns on Internet privacy have increased and as such, more and more people are actively seeking to browse the web anonymously.
Privacy and anonymity often go hand in hand. Anonymity means no one can identify you and privacy implies no can see what you’re doing. So what you want is to be anonymous and at the same time to have your online activities private.
There are ways to achieve this and perform invisible web searches.
1. Use a Reputable VPN Service
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt data and routes it through an intermediary server (VPN server) in a location of your choice. By using services like this, your real IP address stays hidden because you automatically take on the IP of the VPN server you’re using.
Many VPNs today also serve to help block trackers, intrusive ads, and other means that companies use to collect data. Unless you’re giving away the information yourself, VPNs can significantly increase your digital anonymity.
Having said this, care needs to be taken when making your choice in VPN provider. Not all are equal and ideally you should seek out one with a “No Logs” guarantee. This ensures that even the VPN provider will not retain infromation about your browsing activities.
While you can put your trust in the provider’s word on this if you wish, some VPN service providers actually engage third party auditors to reassure customers. NordVPN and ExpressVPN are two examples of brands that have done this.
Still, at the end of the day, you need to trust your VPN provider to a certain extent. Always go for a good, trustworthy and reputable service provider. Also, avoid VPNs based in the United States and Europe, where data retention laws and government intelligence agencies could put your privacy at risk.
2. Browse Using a Proxy Server
Proxy servers are usually seen as the lighter (and often cheaper) alternative to VPNs. They might suit your needs, especially when your only goal is to circumvent certain geographical online restrictions. But, bear in mind that they don’t have the same security standards as a VPN.
When using a proxy, you send a request for information to that proxy server, which then sends it on to the intended website. The website will only be able to see the IP address of the proxy server and not yours. Simply put, all the traffic is routed through a remote server before the web page is downloaded onto your device.
People who may be watching, will see that everything is originating from that proxy server’s location instead of your real location. Although the websites you visit won’t be able to see who you are, your IP address and online traffic are still easier to unravel than would be the case when using a VPN. This is because proxies typically do not encrypt your data.
Not all proxies are created equal, but once you do some research, you’ll find that there are some free anonymous proxy servers that are relatively safe for browsing the web anonymously.
3. Use a Privacy-focused Web Browser
It’s always wise to go back to basics and choose a browser which helps you protect your anonymity. There are many popular browsers available and they have very different ways of dealing with user privacy along with various levels of safety.
Some examples include:
Google Chrome – Great Browser but Lacks Some Privacy Features
Admittedly, the Chrome browser supports several pop-up blockers and other privacy-oriented browser extensions. But, the fact that Chrome is a product under the Google umbrella. This alone means that it’s one of the largest culprits for data collection around the world.
Remember, Google tracks your activities and profits from having as much data on you as possible. While this may help with providing you with better services, it’s an absolute nightmare when it comes to privacy.
Microsoft Edge – Not a Good Privacy Choice
When it comes to online safety and privacy, it is best not to use Microsoft Edge. Although this official successor to Internet Explorer has been updated to perform better, much like Chrome it belongs to a company that loves to keep track of user activities.
Having said that, on the surface Microsoft Edge does have some privacy benefits. Still, they aren’t that great and it also doesn’t have any tracking protection, which other browsers do. So, if you wish to protect your privacy, it is best to stay away from Edge.
Mozilla Firefox – Possibly the Best ‘Normal’ Browser for Privacy
Mozilla Firefox is known as the best ‘normal’ browser for users who value their privacy. It also includes several other security features, such as protection against phishing and malware. Firefox users will also automatically receive warnings whenever websites try to install add-ons.
Unlike most other browsers, Firefox is open source. This means that everyone can look into the code that makes up Firefox’s software. Because of this transparent way of working, Mozilla will not be able to build in tracking features even if it wanted to.
When it comes to privacy, Firefox is indeed a secure choice due to its useful built-in extensions that protect users against tracking and privacy breaches.
Tor Browser – Helps Keep You Anonymous
Tor, occasionally referred to as the ‘Onionland’ because of its use of onion routing along with its encapsulation of network traffic in layer upon layer of encryption, is the best known and most widely used network for true anonymity.
Unlike most others, the Tor browser allows you to browse somewhat more anonymously. The Tor network is meant for encrypted as well as anonymous communications. It consists of tons of servers worldwide. All data traffic is encrypted and sent via these entry, transit and exit nodes (servers), until it reaches its destination.
The multiple hoops and the encryption used in each of these nodes make it almost impossible to track or analyze a communication. This whole process costs time and so the Tor browser can be relatively slow. But no matter how slow it is, it does make sure no one can see what you do online.
Bear in mind that Tor only secures what you do online in its network. Services like Skype and WhatsApp are still accessing the internet without the use of a browser, so Tor cannot offer you protection here. So, it is highly recommended to use a VPN at the same time to add that other layer of protection.
The Tor browser is easy to use and supports various languages and multiple platforms, such as Linux, Windows and even Android.
4. Use an Anonymous Search Engine
DuckDuckGo is widely recognized as one of the best anonymous search engines. Unlike other popular search engines, DuckDuckGo does not collect and use your data. It does not create a user profile on you. Your search terms and the links you click aren’t tracked or logged.
DuckDuckGo not only promises anonymity, it also actively blocks advertising trackers and keeps your search history private. When you do a search on DuckDuckGo, you’ll get unbiased results.
Google on the other hand gives you results tailored to what Google thinks you’re likely to click on. This is purely based on the data profile they’ve built on you over time from all their tracking you. Whereas DuckDuckGo never puts you in this Filter Bubble. A search of the same keyword will return the same for everyone.
However, since DuckDuckGo is a fully independent browser, its results won’t be as good as Google’s though. But if anonymity is the name of the game for you, give DuckDuckGo a try.
No anonymity tool is perfect but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t effective. Bear in mind that a tool is only as effective as how it is used. If you make any mistakes, the tool can protect you only so much.
So how do we avoid making mistakes?
Make a checklist.
Each time you want to be anonymous online, start from the beginning of your checklist which includes the above. Never include any login credentials or other identifying information. By following this checklist, you can drastically reduce the chances of making mistakes and you’ll be able to browse the Internet with greater peace of mind.