May 26, 2024

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Anonymity Online: Is It Possible?

Most of us use the internet daily. We expect to go online and enjoy all kinds of content without any problems. In many cases, we would not like to have our browsing activities traced back to us. And, typically, the web gives us a sense of anonymity, as if nobody can know who exactly we are.

Additionally, we often prioritize encryption (especially end-to-end encryption) as means of becoming more private online. But what about anonymity? Is encryption an adequate response to our concerns? Yes and no. Let’s discuss additional options that are bound to improve your experience.

Privacy vs. Anonymity

There are a few problems when users mention privacy or anonymity online. The first one is that most people don’t understand the difference between privacy and anonymity. These two terms are used interchangeably but refer to separate ideas. 

The concept of privacy describes something you do alone, without anyone else knowing about it. Imagine sitting in your room and reading a book: no one else knows about it. The same applies if you sit in the kitchen with your friend and discuss some juicy gossip. If no one else hears it, it is a private conversation.

Online privacy is very similar. It refers to the idea that no one, besides the intended recipients, should be aware of your actions online. The perfect example here is the private messaging apps that offer end-to-end encrypted communication. It means that no one, not even the app owners, knows what exactly you write to your contacts. However, not all apps encrypt information known as metadata. In essence, we can compare it to the details on a letter sent via post offices. Thus, metadata might include who the message is intended to or for how long the communication lasted.

Anonymity, on the other hand, is an entirely different concept. It’s when you don’t necessarily object that others can see what you are doing. It is all about whether those activities can be linked back to you.

The Way Internet Works Doesn’t Go Well with Anonymity

By default, we have very limited options for staying anonymous online. To the very least, every website will know your approximate location. However, considering the tracking and surveillance that happens online, our browsing can nearly always be traced back to us.

Even so, multiple studies have shown that people would like to stay anonymous when surfing the internet. However, most of them know that doing so is very hard to achieve. In fact, two out of three US citizens believe that it’s impossible to hide your identity online. Some take steps such as clearing browsing history, but that’s not enough to achieve complete anonymity. But even going into incognito mode, restraining from using social media, and blocking trackers are not enough to ensure full online anonymity.

What Can You Do?

As we’ve just said, your chances of achieving complete online anonymity are slim. With that said, you can still use a few methods to limit the information you share. That will make it much harder for websites and servers to follow your online activities. Thus, it means that fewer data can be traced back to you. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Use anonymous email services (like Tutanota).
  • Block third-party cookies and other trackers. Many browsers do this by default. In others, you might need to follow the manual route.
  • Use the Tor browser to become more anonymous. It is one of the best tools for this purpose, but it might be rather sluggish for daily use.
  • Stay away from social media or keep your profile information close to a minimum.
  • Turn to more private search engines (for example, DuckDuckGo) and browsers (Brave or even Mozilla Firefox).
  • Use Atlas VPN to encrypt information about your online activities. Additionally, it will mask your IP address, making you more anonymous online. An IP address works as your unique identifier, and it can be used to pinpoint you.
  • Clear browsers’ cookies whenever you can.
  • Avoid revealing too much information online.

The only real way you can achieve 100% online anonymity is by staying away from the internet altogether. Since that’s practically impossible to pull off, stick to the recommendations above, and you should be able to minimize your digital footprint and achieve a higher level of online privacy and anonymity.

Picture of By Corey Noles

By Corey Noles

Corey Noles is the Managing Editor for Innovation & Tech Today. In more than two decades as a journalist, he has covered crime, MLB, business, healthcare, politics and anything else that could snag a headline.

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