Friday, August 3, 2012
People value their privacy. And that's little more evident than online. But some think that it's impossible to surf online anonymously. After all, pretty much every site you visit tracks you in some way, whether it be a social network or a search engine. And if that's not enough, your online activities also tracked by your ISP and probably the government, in addition to any number of third party advertising companies who are watching where you go online so that they can tailor their advertising to your surfing habits.
Knowing how much and by whom you are tracked can give you the same creepy feeling you might get from watching a documentary about common germs found around the house. You know they're there, everyone has them, but you don't want to think about them!
Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that every browsing session you open isn't also open to potentially hundreds of other individuals and companies.
Anonymity Via USB
Believe it or not, complete online privacy does come in the form of a USB stick. While this is not a free option (you have to purchase the key from the company), it can allow you to mask your IP address using a private proxy network. The DIY alternative is to download and install free software like Tails onto your own USB stick, and run it as you surf so that all your channels are directed through its servers.
The Browser-Based-Secret Surf
Installing some privacy software on your computer and enabling it in your browser has also become another popular way for many to surf privately. Programs like Hotspot Shield use a VPN or Virtual Private Network to allow for anonymous surfing. In this example, you install the software onto your computer, and then look for the icon when you're ready to surf, and enable the connection. Hotspot Shield is free to download, but also has an Elite paid version available.
Disabling Browser Features
Although the above software may greatly reduce your chances of being able to be tracked while surfing, if you are surfing at work, you should know that there is much information stored on your computer that can give your employer's IT department plenty of clues as to what you've been doing.
But by making some simple changes to your browser settings, you can cover even more of your tracks. Note: this will only work if you are allowed to make changes as a non-administrator. The main method of concealing your online activities is to disable any cookies, which are tiny files that many sites install on your computer. These files make it easier for you the next time you visit, as they contain information about what you did on your last visit. But they also make it incredibly easy for any IT person to find out where you've been.
In addition to disabling cookies, you can also either delete your surfing history manually, or set your browser to delete your history after every session. These options can usually be found in your browser's "Tools" section. You may also want to ensure that any 'auto-complete' features are turned off completely. All it takes is for someone to type in a few letters, and the entire list of what you just searched for or surfed to could pop up.
If you visit sites often that require you to log in, such as a newspaper or video site, you may wish to consider having login information that's shared with your close group of friends. Alternatively, you can visit sites which post usernames and passwords to these types of sites for the public to access. One example of this type of site is called BugMeNot.
Even with all of the options available to surf anonymously, being cautious is always the best line of defense. Ensure that if you're surfing at work that you won't get in trouble for using any of the methods above, as some may be forbidden or raise red flags in your company's IT department.
- Browse anonymously
Guest author Ruth Suelemente enjoys writing on a variety of topics, particularly related to technology. You can check out some of her work at http://www.highspeed-internet-providers.com/. You can also find Ruth on Google.