How to Browse the Internet Anonymously: Tips to Stay Private

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Summary: How to Browse the Internet Anonymously

It is nearly impossible to anonymously browse, stream, and download content from the web. Websites, apps, and search engines closely track our online activities.

Want more online privacy? Do you want to prevent companies from tracking you? There are a few ways to browse anonymously.

  1. Use a VPN connection.
  2. Choose a privacy-friendly browser.
  3. Search the web with an anonymous search engine.
  4. Install browser extensions for your privacy.
  5. Use secure mail apps.
  6. Secure your social media settings.

Using a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the top ways to access the internet anonymously. When you’re connected to a VPN server, your internet traffic is routed through a secure connection. The VPN software also encrypts all your data, so third parties can’t know what you’re doing online.

If you’re looking for a recommendation, NordVPN is our top pick. This VPN provider consistently scores the highest in our tests.

For an in-depth guide on how to browse the internet anonymously, read the full article below.

Your online activities aren’t as private as you’d like to believe. You’re tracked across the web by different parties. Internet service providers (ISPs), network administrators, browsers, search engines, apps, social media platforms, hackers, and government agents can access information about you and your online activities.

Unfortunately, using incognito mode is not enough to completely hide your browsing history or secure your privacy. While browsers claim they don’t store your search history or cookies in incognito mode, many do. Google has been sued for collecting data on users even when they’re browsing in private mode.

You’ll need more than just incognito mode to surf the web without prying eyes. Below, we show you how to be anonymous online.

Six Tips for Anonymous Browsing

Infographic showing six tips to stay anonymous while browsing

Do you want to surf, stream, or download content from the web without being tracked? Here are some efficient methods to stay anonymous on the internet:

  1. Use a VPN connection.
  2. Choose a privacy-friendly browser.
  3. Search the web with an anonymous search engine.
  4. Install browser extensions for your privacy.
  5. Use secure email apps.
  6. Secure your social media settings.

We’ll go into more detail below and explain each method thoroughly.

Tip 1: Use a VPN connection for safe and anonymous browsing

Use a VPN connection iconA virtual private network (VPN) allows you to browse the internet anonymously. When you connect to a VPN server, your connection is encrypted, and your real IP address is masked. This makes it difficult for anyone to track you or keep tabs on your online activities.

Your IP address can reveal your location and your internet service provider. VPNs eliminate this risk by replacing users’ IP addresses. This ensures that the websites you visit and apps you use can’t identify you.

Apart from helping you remain anonymous online, VPNs also unblock location-based restrictions. You can access the foreign libraries of Netflix, Hulu, and many other streaming platforms with a VPN.

When choosing a VPN, these are some of the most important features to look out for:

  • Zero-logs policy: The best VPN providers don’t store any data about users’ online activities. When you choose a no-logs VPN or zero-logs VPN, third parties like advertisers or the government can’t obtain your data since it isn’t stored.
  • Diskless servers or RAM-only servers: We recommend VPNs with diskless servers as they only keep your data until their servers are powered down or rebooted. This offers additional protection and guarantees that third parties can’t access your data.
  • Kill switch: A kill switch prevents your IP address from leaking if your VPN malfunctions. The kill switch shuts down your internet connection, so your IP address is not accidentally exposed to the websites or apps you’re using.

Our recommendation: Use NordVPN to browse anonymously

NordVPN PNG Logo LargeNordVPN offers great privacy protection with military-grade encryption and dedicated P2P servers for anonymous torrenting. Plus, it supports the OpenVPN protocol, which is ideal for privacy-minded users. OpenVPN is currently considered the gold standard for VPN protocols when it comes to encryption.

Privacy and security aren’t the only reasons we recommend this VPN service. NordVPN has a large server network and boasts impressive speeds. There’s always a server nearby that can keep up with even the most demanding users.

NordVPN allows you to use a premium VPN account on up to six devices, including those running on Windows, Android, Mac, iOS, and Linux. For more information about the features and performance of this VPN, read our full NordVPN review.

Visit NordVPN

Browsing the internet anonymously with a free VPN

In addition to paid VPNs, plenty of free VPNs are available today. While a free VPN may sound attractive, most free VPNs aren’t secure. Some free VPNs are known to sell user data. So, you certainly won’t be anonymous or secure using them.

Free VPNs usually have a daily or monthly data cap and are much slower. With that said, there are a few secure, free VPNs you can trust.

These are our recommendations:

  • PrivadoVPN: Privado is one of the rare VPN providers that does not differentiate much between its paid and free users. While the free version has a 10GB data limit, it comes with premium features like access to 44 servers and the availability of dedicated servers for torrenting and streaming.
  • ProtonVPN: This is the only free VPN offering users unlimited bandwidth. ProtonVPN is one of the best VPNs on the market, especially for Windows users. The only major downside is that only three servers are available to free users. It offers top-notch security and privacy, which you can read more about in our ProtonVPN review.
  • Hide.me: This VPN makes our list due to its rock-solid, no-logs VPN policy and 24/7 customer support. Hide.me supports torrenting, but the 10GB data limit hampers your ability to download content.

Instead of a free VPN, you can opt for a reliable, cheap VPN. You could also try out a premium VPN, like NordVPN, for free with their 30-day money-back guarantee.

Tip 2: Choose a privacy-friendly browser

Privacy friendly browser icon It’s essential to use security-focused web browsers for complete anonymity online. Different browsers have very different ways of safeguarding users’ privacy, and some are more effective than others.

Popular browsers, like Chrome and Microsoft Edge, fail to protect your privacy. A study published in 2020 revealed that Edge uses identifiers to link requests and track users. The fact that Google owns Chrome concerns us as Google’s business model is built on collecting data and serving users with targeted ads.

We highlight two of the best privacy-friendly browsers below. For more options, check out our article on the best browsers for privacy.

Our recommendation: Use Firefox

Firefox LogoMozilla Firefox is one of the best browsers for users who value their privacy and want to browse the web anonymously.

To kick things off, Firefox has several security features, such as protection against phishing and malware. Also, Firefox users automatically receive a warning whenever a website tries to install add-ons.

Firefox is a very secure choice, and the community offers many useful extensions that protect users against tracking and privacy breaches. Setting up these extensions can, however, be challenging for new users. You can learn more about the optimal security settings and extensions in our article on setting up Firefox as an anonymous browser.

Unlike most browsers, Firefox is open source. This means that everyone can access and contribute to the code behind the software. Due to this transparency, Mozilla can’t just build in tracking features even if it wants to.

Next level anonymous browsing: The Tor browser

Tor The Onion Router LogoInstalling the Tor browser is a good option if you want to browse completely anonymously. Tor (The Onion Router) is an online network for encrypted and anonymous communication.

The Tor network consists of thousands of servers worldwide. All data traffic that passes through it is broken up into little pieces, encrypted, and sent through three servers before reaching its destination. This process takes time. Therefore, Tor can be relatively slow, but this is a small price for truly private browsing.

It’s important to note that Tor only encrypts your browser traffic. So, if you’re using other apps like Skype and WhatsApp to access the internet, Tor can’t offer you protection.

It’s worth mentioning that Tor also provides users access to the dark web. The dark web isn’t regulated, which means it comes with many risks to your safety.

For example, it’s very easy to run into malware there. So, if you want to get on the dark web, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to protect your privacy.

Other anonymous browsers

If Firefox and Tor aren’t to your taste, there are a few decent alternatives you can try:

  • Brave: Brave should be the browser of choice for people used to Google Chrome. It’s built on the same Chromium core and has many of the same functionalities. However, it does not track your data for ad purposes and allows you to use other privacy-friendly Google alternatives, such as DuckDuckGo.
  • Safari: Surprised to see a product by a big-tech company here? Well, Apple has seemingly made user privacy one of its core concerns. Safari automatically blocks tracking requests and prevents suspicious sites from loading. It also has a lot of security extensions to keep your data safe.
  • DuckDuckGo: The DuckDuckGo browser provides all the privacy features of the DuckDuckGo search engine and much more. Currently, this browser is only available for iOS, macOS, and Android devices.

Tip 3: Search the web with an anonymous search engine

Use anonymous search engine iconAnonymous search engines let you search the internet without being tracked. They don’t collect your data, and the keywords you search for or the links you click can’t be traced back to you. Moreover, the websites you visit won’t be able to see which search terms led you to them.

Our recommendation: Use DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is probably the best-known anonymous search engine today. The only downside is that DuckDuckGo doesn’t have the same budget and capabilities of big businesses like Google. This means that your search results won’t be as optimized.

This is actually a good thing for privacy, as DuckDuckGo shows everyone the same search results. On the other hand, Google adjusts your results to your user profile. The perceived “inaccuracy” of DuckDuckGo shows that they’re actually sticking to their promise of anonymity.

Startpage is another anonymous search engine worth checking out. This privacy-friendly search engine draws its search results from Google but doesn’t track users or log their data.

Our article on the best private search engines contains some other excellent recommendations.

Tip 4: Install browser extensions for your privacy

Privacy browser extensions iconThere are many browser extensions out there that can help to improve your privacy and safety online. These extensions are easy to use and compatible with most browsers.

  • Privacy Badger is a free extension that gradually blocks invisible trackers. It doesn’t immediately block these trackers upon installation. Instead, it takes time to analyze which third-party trackers follow you across websites and stop them. This extension is currently available for Chrome, Firefox, Firefox for Android, and Opera.
  • Ghostery shows you the tracking cookies active on each website you visit and gives you the option to block them. This extension is available for Brave, Chrome, Cliqz, Edge, Firefox, Opera, and Safari.
  • uBlock Origin filters out ads and unwanted scripts. This is one of the most popular ad-blocking extensions. You can download it for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
  • Cookie AutoDelete ensures that your browser’s cookies are automatically deleted as soon as you close a tab.
  • HTTPS Everywhere ensures that websites that can work with HTTPS won’t revert to using HTTP. Most trusted websites use “https://” at the beginning of their web address. That’s HTTPS in action. HTTPS Everywhere is available for download on Brave, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

Our article on the best privacy browser extensions contains 18 different extensions that will allow you to browse anonymously.

Tip 5: Use secure mail apps

Email icon with security shield icon over itThe emails we send to family, friends, and colleagues contain a lot of personal information, like financial and medical records. We believe your private interactions should stay private. That’s why we recommend messaging and email services that offer end-to-end encryption.

Our recommendation: Send emails using ProtonMail

ProtonMail has established itself as one of the leading names in the secure email domain. It uses advanced encryption techniques to keep your email safe. It also integrates well with most mail clients, so you can send secure emails using your preferred mail app. The ProtonMail app is very easy to use.

While it’s slightly on the expensive side, we highly recommend ProtonMail to secure the privacy of your emails. The fact that it operates out of Switzerland further adds to its credibility, as the nation is regarded as privacy-friendly.

Mailfence and Tutanota are excellent alternatives to ProtonMail. Each service has pros and cons, and the choice eventually comes down to user preferences. Our article on the most secure email providers compares the different providers and contains all the information you need to decide which is best for you.

Tip 6: Secure your social media settings

Share icon, like icon and security shield icon

Most social media companies earn revenue by collecting and selling user data to advertisers and other third parties. This is why you see ads for terms you had searched for on Google or pages you’ve visited on Facebook and Instagram.

Due to the increasing scrutiny of their data collection activities, social media companies have given users greater control over their data. Users can now adjust their privacy settings to minimize data collection on these websites and apps. However, changing your privacy settings is not always straightforward.

To make the process easy, we’ve created guides to help you tweak your privacy settings on popular social media platforms:

  1. How to Improve Your Twitter Privacy Settings
  2. Take Charge of Your Google Privacy Settings
  3. Facebook Privacy Settings: The Ultimate Guide

We generally recommend options out of tracking requests, location tracking, and targeted ads. Remember, the less data you share with social media websites, the better.

More Ways to Ensure Anonymity Online

If you really want to be as anonymously online as possible, you can find a few extra tips and tricks down below.

Test your anonymity

The first step to online anonymity is finding out what data is exposed when you visit the web. Our browser leak test shows you what information is visible to the websites you visit and apps you use.

Other tools, such as Proxy6, provide an overall proxy score based on the information it can access about you, including your IP address, coordinates, time zone, and ISP. Ideally, you should get a score of 100% on these tests.

Also, we recommend using a dark web monitoring service to see if your personal information, including your password, phone number, etc., has been leaked online. Sites like Have I Been Pwnd allow you to check if your email or phone number has appeared in a data breach online.

Use a proxy server

Proxy server iconUsing a proxy server also allows you to remain anonymous online. When using a proxy, you send a request for information to that proxy server, which then sends it to the right website. The website will only 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, and your IP address and internet traffic are much easier to unravel. Although the websites you visit won’t be able to identify you, other parties may be able to see what you do. Since proxies don’t protect or encrypt your connection, the only thing keeping them from knowing your identity is the proxy’s IP.

Proxy servers are lighter, free alternatives to a VPN. They will suffice if your only goal is to circumvent certain geographical online restrictions.

Person connecting to the internet through a Proxy Server

Opt out of targeted ads

Blocked popup adsYour data is valuable to companies serving ads online. It’s important to prevent advertisers from collecting or monetizing your data.

A simple way to do this is using the Network Advertising Initiative’s (NAI) opt-out tool. This tool allows you to see which members of NAI, mostly internet ad companies, use outputs from your browser for internet-based advertising. You can also opt-out of advertising by any or all NAI members. Additionally, the tool lets you opt out of targeted advertising on your mobile devices.

Prevent WebRTC leaks

Security, audio and video iconWeb Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) facilitates the streaming required for peer-to-peer audio-visual communication from your browser. In other words, it’s crucial for browser-based online video and voice calls.

However, WebRTC sometimes sends out your real IP address for peer-to-peer communication to work. Such WebRTC IP leaks can happen even when using a VPN. Our research suggests that NordVPN reliably and continuously plugs WebRTC leaks so you can make calls without worrying about eroding your privacy.

If you don’t make too many calls from your browser, you can consider turning off WebRTC from your browser’s settings. Refer to our guide on WebRTC and WebGL leaks to learn how to turn off this feature on the most popular browsers.

Stop WebGL fingerprinting

Fingerprint icon, stop icon and graphic card iconWeb Graphics Library (WebGL) enables hardware rendering 3D graphics in your browser. It reduces the need for plugins and extensions and allows direct utilization of your graphics card by your browser.

While WebGL doesn’t leak your IP address, it can put information about your device — such as the operating system and graphics card model — in the public domain. This information can be linked to other data about you, resulting in a fairly complete profile for ad targeting. Hence, it’s important to prevent WebGL leaks as well.

You can stop WebGL fingerprinting by tweaking your browser settings to block hardware fingerprinting. Unfortunately, there are not many extensions that prevent WebGL leaks. This is something that needs to be done manually. Even so, it’s worth the time and effort as it helps you to browse more anonymously.

Randomize your MAC address

Circles with question marksA MAC (Media Access Control) address is a unique 48-bit code used to identify different devices on a network. It helps the router identify which device information should be sent to. The fact that the MAC address is a unique identifier means it can be used to trace your device’s online activity and launch harmful man-in-the-middle attacks.

While MAC address-based attacks are relatively rare, you can protect against them by randomizing your MAC address. On Windows, you can do this by going to Settings > Network and Internet > WiFi. Here you should find an option to set random hardware addresses.

How Does Web Tracking Work?

Infographic showing how does web tracking work

We’ve broadly covered various ways to secure your connection and browse the internet anonymously. But it’s useful to understand how web tracking works. These are some of the most prevalent web tracking methods:

  • Cookies: Cookies are snippets of code stored on your device by your browser. Cookies are not all bad, and some serve useful purposes. First-party cookies, for instance, let you access accounts and services without having to sign in each time. However, some websites use third-party cookies that track your information across the web for targeted advertising.
  • IP address: Similar to a MAC address, an IP address is a unique identifier assigned to devices. The apps and websites you visit can see your IP address. Advertisers also track your IP address.
  • Web beacons: This type of tracking depends on transparent pixels to track user data. These beacons or pixels are embedded on several websites and monitor how you use different web pages. For instance, a beacon would monitor which pages you spent time viewing and use this to suggest products or services similar to the page you were on.
  • Device and browser fingerprinting: We’ve already discussed WebGL leaks, but browsers also expose other information when you access websites. This data can be used to create a browser fingerprint and track your device across different websites.
  • Canvas fingerprinting: The HTML5 standard enables canvas fingerprinting, another way to track your online browsing activity. The script allows the browser to collect details about your graphic processing unit (GPU) and other hardware specifications. A 2022 update to the technique has made it far more effective and is something that needs to be guarded against.

Secure Your Browsing Activities Today

It’s practically impossible to browse the internet completely anonymously due to invasive data collection and tracking.

However, using the tips listed above should help minimize unwanted data collection and surveillance. Keep in mind that you don’t need to use every suggestion. Instead, you should determine how much anonymity you want and decide on the tools accordingly.

As a bare minimum, we’d suggest using a VPN when browsing the web, especially when visiting sites that could land you in trouble.

Interested in learning more about how to secure your privacy and be anonymous online? Check out these insightful articles:

How to Browse the Internet Anonymously: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about how to browse the internet anonymously? Check the FAQ section below. Click on a question to see the answer.

While it’s difficult to stay completely anonymous on the internet, the following steps should help minimize tracking:

  1. Use a VPN connection to encrypt your online activity.
  2. Choose a privacy-friendly browser that doesn’t collect data or store cookies.
  3. Search the web with an anonymous search engine.
  4. Install privacy-enhancing browser extensions.
  5. Use a secure email app.
  6. Secure your social media settings.

Check out our detailed guide for more tips and tricks on how to browse the internet anonymously.

When you’re connected to a VPN, your connection is secure. The VPN software ensures that all your online traffic is encrypted, blocking it from third parties. Your IP address is hidden, and your connection is routed through a VPN server.

We recommend NordVPN because of its advanced security features, wide server network, fast speeds, and no-logs policy. It is a solid VPN that will help you surf the internet more securely and anonymously.

We generally don’t recommend using a free VPN. Many free VPNs aren’t secure and might keep logs of your data. Your private information might therefore not always be safe. But there are some great free VPN providers like PrivadoVPN and ProtonVPN.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.
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  1. Really good post. I would suggest Metager instead of DDG as it is outside the USA legislation.

    • Thank you for your comment. We are currently updating this article and will review Metager to see if it is better option.

  2. Hello, what about privacy in the Opera browser? It has built-in VPN and DNS over HTTPS support. Do you think it is on the similar security level like Firefox? Much thanks.

    • Hi Adam! Opera definitely has the potential to be a private browser if you set it up in the right way. However, their built-in VPN isn’t great, as it is known to log data, and it is owned by a Chinese company, which is a privacy concern in itself. We definitely recommend browsers like Firefox, Brave, and Tor over Opera. If you’d like to know more, this article might be a nice read: https://vpnoverview.com/privacy/anonymous-browsing/best-browsers-for-privacy/

  3. Most VPNs will not make you anonymous at all. They can encrypt your connection and hide your Internet browsing from the ISP, which could be helpful, especially if using a public wifi connection. Tor gives better privacy than a VPN.

    • It’s true that Tor is a little better for anonymity, though a VPN is better for privacy. They overlap quite a bit in what they do, and we wouldn’t say that VPNs won’t make you anonymous at all, they do shield your activities and IP from others.

  4. What is the utmost secure way to use the internet?

    • There are a lot of extra ways to protect your identity and data online. It’s hard to give a definitive answer on this one. For most people, good antivirus software such as Bitdefender and a VPN should be enough. But there are a lot of other steps you could take to stay safe online. The most important thing you can do yourself is be aware of the different dangers that lurk online such as phishing.

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