Many of your online actions are not as private as you might think. These days, countless parties attempt to follow our online behavior as closely as they can. Our internet service providers, the administrators of our networks, our browser, search engines, the apps we’ve installed, social media platforms, governments, hackers and even the websites we visit all know – to a certain extent – what we’re doing online. If you don’t want your partner to find out the special birthday gift you’ve ordered, using the incognito modus will suffice. However, if you don’t want anyone to know what you do online, a simple incognito mode won’t do.
Six ways to stay anonymous online
Do you want to surf, stream or download anonymously? There are a few ways to protect your online privacy. Here are some efficient methods to stay anonymous online:
- Use a VPN connection.
- Choose a privacy-friendly browser.
- Use a proxy server.
- Search on the web with an anonymous search engine.
- Install browser extensions for your privacy.
- Manage your privacy settings.
We’ll go into more detail below and explain each method thoroughly.
Tip 1: Safe and anonymous browsing with a VPN
Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a suitable way to browse the internet anonymously. When you’re connected to a VPN server, your connection is secure. The software ensures that all your online traffic is encrypted using special protocols, so your data can no longer be read by others.
Moreover, your IP address stays hidden, because you automatically take on the IP address of the VPN server you’re using. An IP address is the identification number of your internet connection and can reveal your location and ultimately your identity. A VPN hides your real IP address for others; they only see the IP address of the VPN server. This way, the websites you visit won’t be able to see your own IP address and won’t be able to identify you.
A lot of VPN providers don’t log your activity while you use their services. This is the product they promise you: anonymous browsing. These providers offer their users guaranteed anonymity with their safe and secure VPN connections.
Combining a masked IP with a secure connection ensures VPN users that their online behavior can no longer be traced by anyone. However, not all VPN providers are as strict when it comes to making this promise. If you want to anonymize your internet connection, it’s important to look for a trustworthy and good VPN provider with a zero logs policy. A zero logs policy ensures that the VPN provider doesn’t registers any of your online activities. This way, not even the government can get a provider to hand over this information, because there’s simply nothing to give. Most of the time, it’s smart to go for a premium VPN, since your private data isn’t always safe in the hands of a free VPN provider.
ExpressVPN: A Trustworthy Giant
One example of a trustworthy VPN provider is ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN has a large amount of servers all over the world and offers strong security options. If you subscribe to ExpressVPN, you gain access to software that protects all of your devices and works for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. You can simultaneously connect to the internet with up to five devices on just one subscription. ExpressVPN is highly suitable for those who want to be able to surf, stream and download with complete anonymity.
ExpressVPN is very user-friendly. After getting yourself a subscription, you can install the application and connect to a secure VPN server in just a few clicks. The app will run on the background of your device, while you can browse and stream as usual. You won’t really notice anything in your everyday browsing experience, but you are far more safe and anonymous. If you want to know more about this provider, please read our full review of ExpressVPN.
- Very easy to use VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
- 3000+ servers in 94 countries
CyberGhost: A user-friendly VPN
A second well-performing VPN is CyberGhost. CyberGhost is a user-friendly VPN provider that helps you browse anonymously. They have a large number of servers all over the world, which makes it extremely easy to find a server that suits your needs. Their servers will make sure you can browse the internet without any restraints. You can even use Netflix and freely download torrents with CyberGhost. The CyberGhost app is very easy to use, and if you have trouble figuring it out, CyberGhost also has a great customer support team that will help you.
If there is a HTTPS alternative for the HTTP website you’re trying to visit, CyberGhost will make sure you are automatically redirected to the secure version of the site. This way, you can browse anonymously and safely at all times. Read our detailed review of CyberGhost to learn more about this VPN.
- Very user-friendly
- High quality for a low price
- Torrents and Netflix possible
Tip 2: Use the right browser
It’s wise to go back to basics and make sure to choose a browser which helps you protect your anonymity. But which browser is the best to use in this case? The different popular browsers have very different ways of dealing with user privacy. They also have different levels of safety. In this section, we’ll be discussing several well-known browser options.
Stay away from Microsoft Internet Explorer and Edge
When considering online safety and privacy, we’d advise you not to use Microsoft’s browsers (Internet Explorer and Edge). Internet Explorer no longer receives any updates, which makes this browser very vulnerable and exposes its users to various risks, including many forms of cybercrime. Microsoft Edge is the official successor of Internet Explorer and does get safety updates. Still, the privacy levels of this browser aren’t great. It doesn’t have any tracking protection, which other browsers do. This, and other ways in which Microsoft lacks in terms of privacy, lead us to advise you to stay away from Internet Explorer and Edge if you want to focus on protecting your privacy.
Google Chrome: awesome browser, lacks some privacy features
The Chrome browser supports several pop-up blockers and other privacy-oriented browser extensions. Still, Chrome is the property of Google, which might have implications for your privacy. Google profits from having as much data on its users as possible. This data is used to show personalized advertisements and to improve Google’s search engine.
Lots of people critique Google on the way the company handles users’ privacy. For example, it has been questioned why Chrome users are often automatically logged in with their Google or Gmail accounts. This way, Google can trace all of your browsing activity and connect it to you as a person. This information is then synchronized across all your devices. Do you use an Android smartphone with apps like Google Maps? Then Google instantly knows even more about you. If you value your privacy, there are some alternative browsers that might suit you better than Chrome.
Apple’s Safari does its job well
Lately, Apple’s browser Safari is doing really well in terms of privacy. The browser has seen the introduction of new features that stop digital fingerprinting, making it a lot harder for other parties to follow you online. It also has Intelligent Tracking Prevention. This automatically deletes first-party tracking cookies that websites place in the Safari browser after seven days. Because of this system, websites are able to track visitors for a much shorter length of time. Aside from that, Safari offers some useful extensions that improve your online privacy. We’ll get back to this later.
Mozilla Firefox: the best and most well-known browser for privacy
If you ask us, Mozilla Firefox is the best ‘normal’ browser for users that value their privacy. To kick things off, Firefox has several security features, such as protection against phishing and malware. Aside from that, Firefox users automatically receive a warning whenever a website tries to install add-ons. When it comes to privacy, Firefox is a very secure choice, also because it offers useful extensions that protect users against all sorts of tracking and privacy breaches. These add-ons are, more often than not, specifically for Firefox.
Contrary to most other browsers, Firefox is open source. This means that everyone can check out the code that makes up Firefox’s software. Because of this transparent way of working, Mozilla couldn’t just build in tracking features even if it would want to. Someone would notice and make a show of it, which would be awful for Mozilla’s reputation.
Next level anonymous browsing: the Tor browser
If you really want to browse anonymously, the Tor browser could be an interesting option. Tor (the Onion Router) is an online network for encrypted and anonymous communication. Tor works pretty much the same as other browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Chrome. However, unlike the other browsers, Tor allows you to browse completely anonymously. The Tor network consists of thousands of servers worldwide. All data traffic that passes through it is cut up in little pieces that are subsequently encrypted and sent through several servers before ending up at its destination. This process costs time, and therefore the Tor browser can be relatively slow. But no matter how slow it is, it does make sure nobody can see what you do online.
An important side note to the use of Tor is that it only encrypts part of what you do online. Only the internet traffic that goes through the browser is protected. Services like Skype and WhatsApp access the internet without the use of a browser. Tor can’t offer you protection here.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Tor provides users with access to the dark web. So be aware, surfing the dark web should be done with great care. This ‘dark part’ of the internet isn’t regulated, which means it comes with a lot of risks for your safety. For example, it’s very easy to run into malware there. Therefore, for most of us, using a VPN along with the Firefox browser is an easier, better and more secure alternative to Tor.
Tip 3: Anonymous browsing with a proxy
The use of a proxy server also provides some anonymity online. When using a proxy, you send a request for information to that proxy server, which then sends it on to the right website. The website will only be able to see the IP address of the proxy server and not your own. A proxy doesn’t have the same level of encryption as a VPN does. Even though the websites you visit won’t be able to see directly who you are, your IP address and online traffic are still much easier to unravel than would be the case when using a VPN. Other parties will still be able to see what you do. The only thing keeping them from knowing your identity is the proxy’s IP. This is all because proxies don’t protect your connection.
Proxy servers are mostly seen as lighter, free alternatives to a VPN. They might suit your needs, but do keep in mind that they don’t have the same security standards as a VPN. A proxy server could suffice though to circumvent certain geographical online restrictions.
Tip 4: Use an anonymous search engine
There’s also the option of using an anonymous search engine. DuckDuckGo is probably the best known anonymous search engine. Anonymous search engines such as DuckDuckGo are alternatives for Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines that like to collect and use your data. When you use DuckDuckGo, your search terms and the links you clicked aren’t traced. Moreover, the websites you visit won’t be able to see which search terms you used. However, they still know that you’ve visited their page. This registration happens through your IP address. Through DuckDuckGo you can search the internet with more anonymity than a regular search engine, but it can’t offer you full anonymity or privacy.
DuckDuckGo doesn’t have the same budget and manpower as big businesses like Google have. This means that the presented search result won’t be as optimized. However, some say that this is actually a good thing for those who focus on privacy. After all, DuckDuckGo shows everyone who enters the same keywords the same search results. Google, on the contrary, adjusts your results to your user profile. The inaccuracy of DuckDuckGo, hence, shows that they’re actually sticking to their promise of anonymity. Our advice is to try out DuckDuckGo to see whether you like it.
A second anonymous search engine is Startpage. This is a privacy-friendly search system that draws its search results from Google, but doesn’t use tracking. We also recommend you try out this one.
Tip 5: Minimize tracking with the right browser extensions
There are many browser extensions out there that help increase your online privacy and safety. These extensions are often easy to install and use. Aside from an adblocker, a password manager and a VPN browser extension, you could also try specific add-ons and extensions that minimize tracking.
Privacy Badger and Ghostery
Privacy Badger and Ghostery are browser extensions that detect and block third-party tracking cookies that are placed on your computer while you browse. Blocking these cookies keeps third parties from following you online. Did you install Privacy Badger or Ghostery and did you visit a webpage that tries to install third-party tracking cookies? Then these extensions will come into action. Good for you, bad for online marketers, and very good for your privacy.
Tip 6: Be wary of big tech companies and big data
Facebook is known to share its users’ personal information with advertisers. This is why women tend to get female hygiene ads on their Facebook feed while men don’t. However, Facebook takes this practice a lot further: they also track what you do when you are not on their site. If you’ve been looking for car insurance online, it’s very likely you’ll see a relevant ad on your Facebook feed. Facebook allows you to change this slightly in the privacy settings of your account. After you have changed these settings, they might not show selected adds anymore, but you will still see adds. Moreover, they will keep gathering information on you. Through their own services, it is not possible to turn off their tracking, you can only slightly tweak what comes up in your newsfeed.
Google also allows you to turn off add personalization. Again this does not mean all adds will disappear, nor will Google stop tracking your data traffic. As a rule you can say that these big companies that are built on advertisement revenues won’t stop tracking us, unless we make it impossible via, for instance, a VPN connection.
There are different steps you can take in order to better protect your online safety and privacy. Do you want to browse the internet anonymously? Then these are the tips we’d like to give you:
- Install a VPN, like ExpressVPN
- Use Mozilla Firefox or the Tor browser
- Use a proxy server as an alternative to a VPN
- Use an anonymous search engine, like DuckDuckGo
- Minimize tracking with the right browser extensions, like adblockers.
- Adjust your privacy settings on social media sites.
If you combine these tips, your online privacy is much better guarded already. You’ll be able to browse the internet completely anonymously.