How to browse the internet anonymously (11 easy and effective ways)
Concern for internet privacy has become an ever-increasing trend as most people seek to browse the web anonymously.
Internet service providers, browsers, search engines, hackers, and governments are among the parties continually monitoring users’ online activities. Even incognito browsing fails to provide the anonymity needed when browsing online.
That said, several ways exist to prevent these parties from tracking your online actions while hiding your identity. Unfortunately, with 2021 being a more technological year, browsing anonymously can seem impossible under any circumstances.
Nonetheless, if you want to stay anonymous online, this guide comes in handy to know effective ways to protect your web anonymity.
Easy ways to browse internet anonymously – quick look
- Use VPN to encrypt your internet traffic.
- Select an appropriate secure browser to avoid tracking.
- Use web proxy to hide your IP address.
- Switch to a secure private search engine.
- Integrate suitable add-ons to your browser to avoid web and ad trackers.
- Be wary of tracking by tech giants.
- Avoid public WiFi. Use private networks only for internet connectivity.
- Use services like BugMeNot to access private sites.
- Avoid email tracking and secure your communication by using an anonymous email account.
- Switch to anonymous payment methods like gift cards and cryptocurrencies.
- Try decentralized networking with I2P.
Ways to browse the internet anonymously
Whether you want to stream, surf, or download anonymously, there are fitting ways to keep your online experience private.
These methods play a vital role in preventing websites and browser plugins from tracking your IP addresses. You may also avoid geographical locations, device identification, browser, and operating system detection.
So, without any ado, here are some effective methods to stay anonymous online:
1. Use a VPN connection
Today, VPN (Virtual Private Network) has become a standard tool to safely and anonymously browse the internet. Once your device connects to a reliable VPN server, your connection becomes secured and private. In addition, the software uses unique protocols, offering encryption to all your online traffic, making your data inaccessible to individual parties.
Having a robust VPN connection also hides your IP address because the tool allows you to use an IP address from the VPN server.
Typically, IP addresses are unique numbers used to identify internet connections and reveal user location and identity. Hence, a VPN tends to hide your IP address, making those monitoring your online activities only see the VPN server’s IP address. Any website you visit will never see your IP address, in turn hiding your location and identity.
If you need to surf or stream content, either in school or at work, anonymously, using a VPN is ideal. It helps you remain anonymous without compromising your privacy. Notably, many top VPN providers never log your activity or the websites you visit. Hence, they guarantee private browsing through their secure VPN connections.
However, not all VPN providers promise and deliver the anonymity, security, and privacy you need. Therefore, it is crucial to consider trusted and reliable VPN providers only, essentially, the ones with a zero logs policy.
A zero logs policy ensures the VPN provider does not register your online actions, and hence, is unlikely to provide any evidence regarding your online activities.
However, it can become tricky to determine the most trustworthy provider amongst the many VPN services out there. So, below are some VPN services recommended after thorough testing.
This is one of the most trusted VPN providers, denoted by its large number of servers worldwide. In addition, ExpressVPN offers robust security options that apply to all your devices once you subscribe.
The VPN is compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android operating systems and is suitable for those who love surfing, browsing, and downloading from the internet. With ExpressVPN, you can concurrently work with up to five devices under a single subscription.
ExpressVPN is very user-friendly as it takes a few clicks for installation and establishing the VPN connection.
Moreover, the app will run in the background, enabling you to browse and stream as usual. Besides, you are unlikely to notice any changes though you remain safer and more anonymous. Feel free to read our in-depth review of ExpressVPN for more details about this VPN service.
NordVPN is another quality VPN as a whole if you wish to surf anonymously online. It is an easy-to-use VPN software with numerous servers available globally. With this, you can readily choose any server that suits you best and browse the web with little difficulty.
NordVPN also helps you to download torrents and even use streaming services such as Netflix. More so, NordVPN boasts responsive customer support to resolve any queries from users.
On top of typical VPN functionality, the provider offers added security features, too.
For instance, if you need to visit an HTTPS alternative for a specific HTTP website, NordVPN will automatically redirect you to the safest version of the website. That enables you to browse the internet anonymously and safely anytime without fear.
Another advantage of this VPN, besides high-quality features, is its low-cost subscription.
You can go through our detailed NordVPN review to learn all about it.
Why I cannot use a free VPN
Alongside paid options, there exist several free VPNs, allowing users to browse the internet anonymously.
However, it is always recommended to consider paid VPNs as most free VPN providers are unreliable for private data security.
Some free VPN services may even record your browsing activities and sell the data to third parties. So instead of a free VPN, opt for a cheap but reliable VPN provider to remain anonymous and secure online.
2. Choose the right browser
Can you be completely anonymous online? This is an issue that most people ask, but the answers lie right where they are.
Browsers are another excellent option for browsing securely and anonymously. However, different browsers accompany individual degrees of guaranteeing user privacy and safety.
It is important to pay close attention and pick only the right browser for all your internet activities. Luckily, some secure browsers exist today to protect you online.
Below are a couple of well-known web browsers for security and privacy.
Mozilla Firefox stands out among the mainstream browsers regarding valuing user privacy, facilitated by its multiple security features.
The browser accompanies protection against phishing and malware, including automatically warning users if a website needs to install add-ons. Firefox also includes useful extensions that make it very secure in the protection against tracking and privacy breaches.
Notably, Firefox is open-source, a unique product module where users can check the code making up Firefox’s software. This shows that Mozilla tries to prove its transparency while accompanying built-in add-ons solely for Firefox. Thus, the browser has done its part to provide user safety, especially when vising any website anonymously.
Users can also make some advanced tweaks to the browser to make it even more secure. Feel free to read more about strengthening Firefox privacy and security in our detailed guide here.
Apple’s browser Safari has made some critical improvements to its privacy terms lately. Introducing new features to stop digital fingerprinting and Intelligent Tracking Prevention has made it secure and private.
Removing digital fingerprints means that other parties are unlikely to track your online activities when using Safari.
On the other hand, the Intelligent Tracking Prevention automatically removes first-party tracking cookies placed by websites in the browser after seven days. This approach prevents websites from tracking visitors for a prolonged period, offering protection to user privacy.
Safari also thrives on enabling useful extensions to improve user online privacy.
With the Tor browser, users get the best experience to browse the internet anonymously.
Tor (The Onion Router) offers an encrypted and anonymous communication browser. The browser works similar to mainstream browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, and Safari but allows users to remain anonymous when browsing.
Tor contains thousands of servers worldwide and encrypts any data traffic sent. The process involves breaking down data traffics and sending them to different servers before reaching their destinations. Thus, this encrypted browser tends to be slow, but nobody can see what you do online.
The best part is that it only encrypts what you do online by protecting what goes through the browser alone.
Moreover, Tor also allows users to access sites on the dark web. But you should proceed with caution.
Due to the risk of this unregulated part of the internet, using a VPN and Firefox browser is a handy alternative.
3. Browsing with a proxy
Determining how to be completely anonymous on the internet also involves using proxy servers to safeguard your privacy and user data.
With free proxies, all you do is send the request information to the proxy server, which then forwards it to the website at hand. The website only recognizes the IP address of the proxy server but not yours.
However, unlike VPN encryption, it is easy for the website to unravel your IP address and online traffic when on proxy servers. This is because proxy servers lack the level of encryption offered by VPNs. In addition, other parties will also monitor what you do through the proxy’s IP, while a VPN prevents them from knowing your identity.
Most people consider proxy servers an alternative to VPNs despite lacking advanced security features. Specifically, proxy servers only prevent particular online restrictions, and this is where they are convenient. However, consider using a VPN provider when it comes to security against traffic data and user privacy.
4. Consider changing your search engine
Specific search engines such as DuckDuckGo are great alternatives to Google, Yahoo, and Bing when you need to browse anonymously.
Anonymous search engines allow users to search different terms, including links, without any traces.
Standard search engines like Google often collect user data.
Contrarily, DuckDuckGo and other privacy-focused search engines never keep any user history; even the website you visit will not recognize your search terms.
Still, the website will know that you visited the page, usually registered with your IP address.
DuckDuckGo allows you to search the web with more anonymity than a regular search engine.
Although, it rarely offers optimized searches due to a lack of adequate budget and human resources like Google. Nevertheless, it is recommended for those focusing on privacy. This search engine offers similar results to google based on the search terms.
For this reason, DuckDuckGo stands out in offering truly anonymous browsing. Trying this private search engine can therefore help you keep your privacy secure.
Another great alternative to DuckDuckGo is StartPage, which also is privacy-friendly and delivers real search results.
5. Incorporate the right browser extensions
Several browser extensions exist today that enable you to maximize online safety and privacy. In addition, these extensions are easy to install and use. Adblockers, password managers, and VPN browsing extensions are among such addons.
You can also find specific addons and extensions in your respective browser’s store to minimize tracking. Search with phrases like “adblocker” or “anti-tracker,” and you’ll find multiple options there. Ensure reading users’ reviews and comments about those addons before installing them.
Two such top browser extensions recommended for you include Privacy Badger and Ghostery.
Both of these browser extensions are tested to work for detecting and blocking third-party tracking cookies. Once you install Privacy Barger and Ghostery, you tend to block third parties monitoring your online activities.
6. Be cautious of big data and tech companies
Let’s face it; Facebook has continually shared user’s data with different advertisers. This is why various groups get well-tailored ads based on their interests on individual Facebook feeds.
Unfortunately, the trend has become even worse, with Facebook now tracking what you do when not using this social media platform. So, for example, if you are looking for vehicle insurance, you will likely see various relevant ads on your Facebook feed.
Though the company allows you to change this in their privacy settings, you will still see other ads. Thus, they will continue to spy on you and collect your information even when you turn off their tracking.
Like Facebook, Google also allows turning off add personalization, but they will continue tracking and collecting your data.
Generally, these big companies continue monitoring their users regardless of the settings to disable such practices. But, again, using a VPN and related methods can help users fight big data privacy concerns and browse anonymously online.
7. Use private internet connections
You will likely find open WiFi whenever you visit different coffee shops, airports, hotels, and other public areas.
While such connections appear attractive, unprotected WiFi hotspots accompany countless perils.
Most malicious actors target such stations and steal personal data or compromise private information for users.
Some tend to monitor the user’s internet usage or plant malware in the connection, providing means to access your traffic data.
Ideally, consider using a VPN and other safety tools to browse safely and privately in unprotected connections. You can also consider a personal LTE hotspot or modem tethered to your device’s LTE connection via cable or Bluetooth.
Can you be completely anonymous online when using a public hotspot? We hear you ask.
The short answer is NO.
But using a tool like a VPN helps you protect your connection. A VPN tends to encrypt your connection while hiding your data from snooping eyes. Using a private internet connection hence enables you to browse the web anonymously.
8. Try BugMeNot
The internet carries a staggering amount of information which, at times, becomes hard to access. This comes in the form of some sites demanding to create an account before you access certain information. In such a case, the website requires first-time users to set a password and provide some personal information.
BugMeNot.com is an internet service that offers registered passwords to protected websites regardless of the site you need to access.
Using this site, all you need to do would be to enter the URL of the site you need to access and search in its database. BugMeNot will provide a particular credential that you can use to access your desired website without creating an account.
However, using this site is a hit-or-miss thing because it may fail to provide valuable information regarding the platform you need to access.
In short, BugMeNot is a handy service when you need to access specific anonymous websites on the web. But keep in mind that it can disappoint at times.
9. Have an anonymous Email account
When BugMeNot seems to disappoint, and it is necessary to access protected sites, you can try an anonymous email account.
Giving your email address to every other website indirectly welcomes endless junks emails, including phishing emails. Therefore, creating an anonymous email with either Tor Browser or VPN is essential to set an account without any visible connection.
Let the new email be entirely separate from your personal or business email account.
Gmail and Outlook are likely to ask for identification, so we recommend going with email providers such as TorGuard Email and Mailinator. They work the same but with a different domain address.
Mailinator is a free disposable email address where you can create without visiting the provider’s site. When accessing protected sites, you can quickly make up an email via inserting any username and including the Mailinator server address at the end. The email address will become active, and you can use it to access protected sites.
Since Mailinator has no signups or passwords, it can become problematic when multiple users choose the same username. This means that you can see the other user’s emails and vice versa.
TorGuard is a VPN provider that also prides itself in providing anonymous emails.
TorGuard’s anonymous email service, PrivateMail.com, has become an excellent solution for users seeking full-featured and less temporary emails, unlike Mailinator. The email comes with a 10MB offshore storage account and a paid monthly or yearly plan when you register.
Users get an option of choosing a unique username and either one of its five email domains. It also comes with secure payment methods such as Bitcoin and PayPal to keep user data private. In addition, the email service offers self-destructing emails and OpenPGP encryption, among other features.
SEE ALSO: Best secure email providers
10. Use anonymous digital currency for payments
Users often make online payments when purchasing products such as antiviruses and VPNs. However, making payments via bank transfer or credit cards compromises your privacy as it leaves a digital trail that leads to your location.
Even if you pay for a safety tool such as a VPN, using anonymous digital currency is crucial.
Moreover, given the ever-rising digital threats, using standard payment methods is not safe because they are linked to your personal email address, phone number, or even business address.
The use of Bitcoins, Gift Cards, and other digital payment methods helps make your payments private. Here it’s worth noting that Bitcoin payments remain untraceable to a greater extent, while gift cards are great if you have trust issues with digital currency.
11. Use I2P
Invisible Internet Project, commonly referred to as I2P, is an anonymous, decentralized network allowing users and applications to browse anonymously.
The software enables users to send a message as a group but through different nodes. Though it offers the anonymity you need, the network uses an elaborate tunnel that works best with the Tor Browser.
The prime benefit of using I2P is that it applies in all activities other than traditional VPNs as it uses different nodes, tunnels and sends multiple packets. It is also compatible with most programs such as torrents, games, browsers, and other P2P tools.
Despite not being as popular as Tor and other VPN providers, this tool has a sheer number of users.
Is anonymous browsing the same as private browsing?
Many internet users often confuse private browsing with anonymous browsing, given the word “private” here. But, sadly, there’s nothing precisely “private” in the former, hence becoming different from anonymous browsing.
If you’re one of those who keep deleting their browser history, private browsing mode comes in handy. However, for true online anonymity, you have to take more steps.
Basically, private browsing is all about maintaining your privacy at the device level. With this mode of browsing, your web browser does not save your browsing history, that is, the websites you visit. Nor does it keep any cookies.
However, it doesn’t protect you from online trackers who might trace you via various other means. Also, it can’t protect you from malware, the more robust trackers, phishing threats, and tracking by Google (or the search engine you use). Besides, anything you download during private browsing also stays on your device.
In short, it’s just an easy workaround to remove your web browser history. But, evidently, this is not what online anonymity is all about.
For an anonymous experience online, you have to follow the tips shared above, in addition to using the private browsing mode, to hide from online tracking entities.
Is it possible to be truly anonymous online?
Unfortunately, regardless of how cautious you remain, achieving 100% anonymity isn’t currently possible.
Although, you can attain anonymity to a greater extent by following the methods shared above. However, as long as you use the internet, you remain somehow traceable.
Then what’s the use of this whole discussion? We hear you ask.
Well, what makes 100% online anonymity a dream (for now) is that you necessarily have to keep sharing your details with others online in one or the way.
For example, when subscribing to a VPN, you share your personal details, such as your name, email address, and billing address, with them. Likewise, signing up for an email service provider or a social media account requires sharing personal information.
Theoretically, you can do the following to browse the internet anonymously.
- Avoid ISP tracking by using an internet hotspot instead. You can choose to get it bought via a trusted acquaintance to avoid sharing your billing details.
- Use Tor to browse the internet anonymously.
- Get a secure email account through an encrypted email service. Here again, you can put up fake information about you.
- Subscribe to a VPN. You can use your secure email account for registration and use anonymous payment methods like gift cards or cryptocurrency.
Now you have seemingly secured your internet traffic. Also, you have avoided sharing your personal data to a great extent.
However, despite applying these seemingly impossible tactics, you can’t be sure of 100% anonymity because of various other web tracking strategies that may continue to work.
But that’s not what you really need. Until you don’t do anything illegal, you are pretty safe by following the practices described above.
These methods work effectively well to end off most annoying trackers, cybercriminals, and other surveillance authorities.
Certainly, different ways exist today to help you browse the internet anonymously. Some of these methods seem more effective than others, but all these forms are useful when used correctly. If you need to avoid the prying eyes of scammers, government agents, or other malicious actors, the tips mentioned above will help.
It is recommended that you combine ideal tools while using the most appropriate ones to maximize your internet anonymity. First, begin with your browser, followed by its extensions, VPNs, and other steps that keep you anonymous throughout your internet surfing experience.
About the author
Thuranira is a privacy expert who is always excited about security empowerment through technology.