17 steps to being completely anonymous online

The default state of internet privacy is a travesty. But if you're willing to work hard, you can experience the next best thing to absolute internet anonymity.

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12. Share files anonymously

The cloud storage service Dropbox, designed to let you share files with others is, in the words of Edward Snowden, “very hostile to privacy.” If you’re looking for a free alternative that lets you anonymously share files of any size, try the open source OnionShare, which was written by Micah Lee, who works with the journalist Glenn Greenwald who was the recipient of the NSA files from Snowden. It’s available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Ubuntu.

13. Use a search engine that doesn’t track your behavior

Popular search engines like Google and Bing keep track of your searches so they can target ads at you. For maximum security, use one that won’t keep track of your results. DuckDuckGo is a great choice. It offers plenty of useful features including region-specific searching; Safe Search, which omits potentially objectionable material; keyboard shortcuts; and more. I particularly like the Instant Answers feature that displays information across the top of the screen in addition to the normal search results for recipes, weather and other topics. Search for “Weather Boston,” for example, and you’ll see the weather report across the top of the page for the next several days or “recipe chocolate chip cookies” and you’ll see thumbnail pictures of the cookies, with links to different recipes.

14. Turn off your location

Web sites can get location data from your PC, and use that to determine your location, target ads at you and help identify you. There’s a way to turn that off, though. In Windows 10 go to Settings > Privacy > Location. Click the Change button and move the slider that appears from On to Off. That by itself isn’t enough, because sites can still look into your location history. So, you should clear that out. To do it, scroll down to Location History and click the Clear button underneath “Clear history on this device.”

location Microsoft

Here’s where to go in Windows 10 to stop websites from snooping on your location.

15. Block Javascript

JavaScript can be a privacy invader, allowing web servers to find out information about you such as what plug-in you have enabled, the size of your monitor, and more. This makes it easier to track your behavior. For maximum safety, disable JavaScript. That can be problematic, though, because JavaScript provides the power and features for many web sites. Turn off Javascript and the site becomes usable. You can turn if off on some sites and keep it on others. If you use Firefox, the NoScript extension will do the trick, and if you’re a Chrome user, turn to ScriptSafe. They both let you decide which sites should load Javascript.

16. Keep your webmail private

When you send email using webmail services like Gmail or Outlook.com, they can be snooped upon. Protect them with encryption. Several free solutions will help you do that. A great one is ProtonMail,  which encrypts all of your email with end-to-end encryption. It doesn’t keep IP logs that can be tracked to your account, and doesn’t require that you give any information to create your anonymous account. There are also apps for Android and iOS, so you can use it with your mobile devices.

17. Delete cookies and your browsing history

It’s a good idea to regularly clean out cookies that website use to track you, and your browsing history, which can be used to identify where you’ve been.

The hard work of privacy

Each of these anonymizing methods can be defeated, but the more of them you add to your privacy solution, the harder it will be for another person or group to identify you. Of course, everything you do to protect your privacy causes inconvenience in your online life. Serious privacy advocates don't mind going to this trouble, but most of us aren't willing to do what it takes to accomplish even a modicum of privacy, such as configuring settings in our OS or on social media sites. Most people simply accept the defaults — which rarely protect privacy.

The people who hack and monitor us for a living hope the majority of us will take the easy way out and do little or nothing to prevent our online identities from being discovered, hacked, and revealed. You can be part of the solution.

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