What is anonymous browsing?

Anonymous browsing protecting your privacy

We surf the internet for a variety of reasons, from using social media, buying and selling goods, to sending information. When we give out private data to businesses and other internet users, we trust them to use that information for legitimate purposes. This isn’t always the case though and financial and personal data can be used for harmful reasons like hacking, stalking and identity fraud.

There are solutions that can offer enhanced privacy online, such as anonymous browsing. This can be useful for individuals who are very safety-conscious and don’t want to reveal their location via their IP address. It can also prevent their search and browsing history being tracked by third parties, liked advertisers or criminals.

What is anonymous browsing?

Anonymous browsers allow users to view websites without revealing any personal information like their IP address. One of the most well-known anonymous browsers is The Tor browser. It’s an open-source piece of software that was originally developed by the United States Navy. It was designed so that the users could send sensitive information without it being intercepted. Tor stands for ‘The Onion Router’ and the browser lets users access websites anonymously.

The onion in the name refers to an “onion” network, where information is contained in so-called layers similar to the vegetable of the same name. Coded data passes through a series of network nodes called onion routers, each of which reveals a new layer, showing the data’s next destination (IP address).

Despite the controversy surrounding anonymous browsing, this type of software can be used for legitimate or illegitimate purposes, just like any browser. It’s used as a tool for governments, journalists and everyday security-conscious surfers who wish to browse the web privately.

Browsing the internet privately

In terms of protecting yourself online and keeping your search activity private, you may not want to dive into the world of specialist anonymous browsing software. Luckily, if you share a computer or have access to public networks such as those in libraries, at work or at universities, there are other ways to use the internet without revealing your search history and sharing your data:

  • Incognito browsing opens up a version of the browser that will not track your activity. It’s particularly useful if you’re entering sensitive data like bank details into the browser, as it can minimise the risk of your information being saved to that computer. It can also be used to look at surprise gifts for the family without leaving clues.
  • Proxy works by acting as a middleman between your computer and the website you want to access. The IP address and information it gathers belongs to the proxy site, so you are effectively getting the same content from another source without it affecting your browsing.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPN) were originally meant for business employees working offsite to gain access to shared drives or networks. Nowadays, you can set up a VPN at home to protect yourself from hackers trying to access your sensitive information.
  • Cookies exist on your computer to remember the way you browse and deliver targeted content to you. Websites are obliged under EU law to ask for your permission before using them and they can be turned off even after you may have consented to their use. Turning off cookies can help to limit the threat posed by the digital footsteps you leave behind. This can help to make your interests, lifestyle and spending habits harder to track.

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