It is key that all internet users become aware of what internet anonymity is if they have not done so already. In most cases though, as is reflected in the statistics, users have a weak understanding of anonymity in general in the context of using the internet. And, in an internet environment like today’s, that is a big mistake. It would be like driving through the Amazonian jungle in a topless vehicle.
Being anonymous on the internet may sound synonymous with something clandestine, or risky, however, it is quite the opposite in this context. Being anonymous online is highly encouraged nowadays, for very good reasons. When it comes to the modern-day internet, privacy and security are two fundamental items on the list that need to be checked off before doing anything else e.g. online shopping, accessing accounts, checking emails, social media, and instant messaging. Putting a helmet on before entering the internet is always a good idea.
For the above reasons, everyone needs to grasp what being anonymous is, and to put the knowledge and best practices below into practice. This way, user data will remain safe and privacy will not be compromised. Privacy, after all, is a basic human right and this should also apply to the digital realm.
Why is Anonymity Important Online?
Most people trust technology to an extent that defies logical reasoning. Not only do they trust technological devices, but they trust the big corporate brands behind these devices. And, they trust these brands with their most precious, sensitive data by handing it over to them without much afterthought. After all, these brands store the activity that takes place on these devices. It is not just the devices though, but the constitution (structure) of the internet itself that is an enemy of privacy and security.
Hiding behind a smartphone, laptop, or other devices never guaranteed any sort of safety or anonymity. IT professionals have always known this. On the contrary, using these devices blindly is inherently dangerous. The reason people do not know this is that the majority of people do not understand privacy or cybersecurity, because of the boring and technical nature of these things. To most people, if there is a technical problem with the computer, they will reach out to a computer technician or reach out to the manufacturer. However, this in itself is nowhere near a solution, and also a grave mistake.
A user’s anonymity can be breached in multiple ways;
- Data collection on the internet
- Behavior and tracking analytics on the internet
- Devices like smartphones that track and record the user
- Other smart IoT devices that also do the same
When did this all start? Why is there an urgent need to be anonymous? Many people have caught on to the fact that data is being collected, websites are not genuine, and the internet is not safe overall. Nothing can be trusted, not even a seemingly innocuous Internet Service Provider (ISP) or how the government handles data.
Over the years, the largest tech companies have also proved that they abuse customer data and loyalty. Proof of this is that the commercialization of digital products and services (like social media platforms, instant messaging, gaming, and more) for for-profit gains have diminished the importance of customers’ privacy, security, and rights.
Also important to mention is the presence of cybercrime on the internet. Anonymity helps there too because if a user cannot be easily tracked, the chance that they experience cyber incidents such as theft and/or impersonation is greatly reduced.
Thankfully, the IT community now knows a great deal about staying anonymous, as there is an entire industry created around this increasing demand. The knowledge, as well as the tools, are out there for those who seek it.
Anonymity Best Practices
The modern internet and modern digital appliances and services require a measure of self-control from the user. This means understanding how to be anonymous and secure online. To do that, the user must heed these well-known and tested guidelines;
- The use of readily available cybersecurity tools
- Making internet best practices a daily habit
Now, what are these cybersecurity tools and internet habits that should be the default for anyone that interacts with technology daily? Among the most important is understanding that privacy and security settings exist for almost every service out there. These need to be looked at in-depth (no skimming) and applied where possible.
Secondly, the use of VPN or Virtual Private Network software is recommended by everyone these days such as the world’s top information security experts. This is software that protects and anonymizes the user’s internet connection from the source, eliminating a host of problems right away. There are a host of premium VPN choices out there today that millions are already using.
Perhaps the most important yet most basic and most abused security protocol is the good old password. Millions of internet users do not use strong enough (long enough and random enough) passwords, or even worse repeat the same password across multiple accounts. Worse yet, some people tend to share their passwords online.
There are, of course, more guidelines that need to be followed. These are:
- Not interacting with suspicious or bizarre emails (phishing scam attempts)
- Using a privacy-focused internet browser to reduce tracking
- Opting for an alternative to mainstream messaging services (like Signal)
- Avoiding unnecessarily oversharing information on social media
- Opting out of targeted online ads where possible
- Declining marketing cookies when accessing websites
Is it possible to be completely anonymous online? The answer to that question is: yes it is. However, it is a lot of work to get oneself ‘off the grid’ completely and is not that necessary unless the user is communicating government secrets or is a hardcore hacker.
Simply following the steps above and benefitting from readily available cybersecurity tools will boost user anonymity from 0% to 90% anyway. Whether one needs that extra 10% to make it to 100% depends on the activity, the knowledge is just a click away.