Remaining anonymous online isn’t just for people with things to hide. Normal citizens have become concerned with unwarranted intrusions into their private lives. Organizations like the NSA have arguably taken powers they weren’t entitled to and collected meta-data on United States Citizens. People should be concerned about these mounting threats to their freedom, but these threats are not going to keep Americans (or anyone else for that matter) off the internet. With that being said there are some measures one can take to help limit (but not eliminate) your online footprint.
The first measure one could take is to utilize the beautiful inventions of anonymous email providers and/or temporary email accounts. The benefit of an anonymous email account is that you don’t have to provide your real name at sign up. This makes it harder for people wanting to track your online activity; they’ll have to put some effort into finding out who you are. If you don’t provide your real email address or name with a provider the tracker can still find the IP address that you used to send out the email. Again, this isn’t a problem if you use a computer at your local library or another public location. However, the tracker isn’t likely to go through this much trouble if you’re message contents isn’t suspicious. One place to send an anonymous email is send-email.org.
Another useful tool for anonymous email includes creating a temporary email account. There are services out there such as Guerrilla Mail (www.guerrillamail.com) and Mailinator (mailinator.com) that allow you to create a temporary email account which can last for various lengths of time. As I see it, there are two main purposes for temporary email accounts anonymity and spam reduction. When you visit a site such as Guerrilla Mail you are given a temporary email address that you can use to send anonymous emails or sign up for other services. The main difference between anonymous email services and temporary email accounts is that with a temporary email account you actually have an inbox where you can receive mail. For example, if you choose to sign up for your local grocery store’s frequent shopper card online you can use a temporary email account to satisfy the required email address form and then click the mandatory account confirmation link that is sent to your inbox. That email account will no longer exist in an hour so your actual email inbox will not be inundated with spam.
Additional measures for remaining anonymous online include making use of proxy servers and VPNs. Proxy servers allow a user to mask their IP address by routing their traffic through an additional server which acts as a middle man. Then the server receiving the request believes they are sending their answer to the middle man and not the actual user.
A VPN or virtual private is a network that allows you to securely connect to a network that you aren’t physically connected to. A great use of a VPN is when a user is connected to a free Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee house or hotel. These connections are not secure and if you will be doing any sort of purchasing or sensitive work on these connections it is essential to connect to a VPN. Otherwise, a hacker (who likes to visit coffee shops and wait within reach of these routers) can steal your credit card information or view what you are working on. Additionally, a hacker can start what is known as a man in the middle attack which will give them access to all of your passwords. A VPN ensures that all traffic from your computer is encrypted and cannot be read by other people on the network. There are many good VPN providers available on the internet, and often time schools and employers offer VPN connections in order to link to their own secure networks.
One common misconception about private browsing (an option in your internet browser) is that it keeps you anonymous on the internet. The only protection private browsing provides a user is that their online activity is not saved by their own browser. The sites they visit can still track their activity and their ISP can still monitor its users. One of the benefits of private browsing is that users can hide browsing history from prying eyes when they are shopping for gifts and don’t want the surprised ruined. Keep in mind that private browsing does not keep you safe from viruses or malware.
In conclusion, there is no surefire way to remain anonymous on the internet, but there are measures that one can take to regain some of their privacy. There are tools such as anonymous email services, temporary email accounts, proxy servers, and VPNs that users can utilize to their advantage. It is important to remember that there are some tools that can be unintentionally misleading as to the level of anonymity they provide such as Private Browsing in your internet browser. I believe it is important for internet users to be aware of steps that they can take to keep the maximum amount of privacy possible. While it is important for a government to protect its people it is also important that the government doesn’t unjustly (and without cause) monitor its population.