How to remain anonymous online

 “Someone’s watching you!” – it’s more true today than it’s ever been, when your every movement isn’t being tracked by the millions of CCTV cameras in the UK (even considering how many of them either aren’t working or are ineffective) your life online is under just as much scrutiny, if not more.

There’s one school of thought that says if you’ve nothing to hide then there’s nothing to worry about. But, equally, we all value our privacy and want to keep it as closely guarded as we can.

So here are some of the key ways that you may inadvertently be giving away information about yourself, and how to avoid them.

Sending and receiving emails

Whenever you send an email it’s marked with your personal IP address which doesn’t take much detective work to match to a specific location. There are also ways that receiving emails can help pinpoint where you are. For example any HTML email that contains an embedded image will generate information containing your IP address.

Browsing on the internet

Increasingly sophisticated technology means that you can be tracked not just where you go online. It also records search terms that you type in even if you don’t actually press “enter”.

And, while the use of cookies is a very well-known method of tracking, now there are even more sophisticated techniques including an ingenious method called canvas fingerprinting which leaves a mark whenever you visit a particular site.

Using Google Maps

It’s widely known that Google is always devising ever-more complex ways of extracting information from users –  and if you use Google Maps and give your smartphone permission to reveal your location it will track and record your every move.

Another less obvious intrusion into your privacy occurs when you click on any Google map embedded in a website as that this is also reported and recorded – and with maps estimated to be embedded on around a million websites they’re hard to avoid online.

In any situation where your IP address is going to reveal your identity then using a virtual private network is a good idea. Not only will a VPN be securely encrypted, it will also be sent from the network’s IP address not your own. There are numerous VPN providers available, each having their pros and cons. In the case of emails with embedded images it’s simply a case of setting your browser to block images and not to load them.

There’s also a browser called Tor which is a very effective way of disguising your identity online by passing the requests websites make when you want to view them through a series of different users making you virtually untraceable, though there are other concerns around the dangers of Tor.

Finally, to avoid being tracked by Google Maps, you simply need to go into the “Personal Info and Privacy” section of your Google account and delete your location history.

So take these few steps and you’ll have done a great deal to minimize the evidence of your online presence. But to really disappear the only real solution will be to get off the internet completely – and for most that’s never going to happen.

“Matthew Turner spends his time fiddling with servers, occasionally offering up his services to local businesses to maintain their digital infrastructure.”

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