Can You Be Totally Anonymous Online?
The easiest way to be completely faceless with regard to the internet is to simply not use it. But nobody wants to try swinging that! What, then, can you do? There are a few things.
Since most of us use the internet for just a handful of reasons, it’s not that difficult to see where you can cut back or change your habits to be hidden.
Do you buy things online? Use a service that will block the merchant from seeing your bank. Want to hide from people who might be spying on your web browsing? Install a VPN. We’ll go over those and other ways to be anonymous in more detail in this article.
The basic idea no matter what you’re trying to hide, is to simply not tie your identity to the activity. This is what every anonymous internet usage service or app has in common.
Browse Anonymously: VPNs & Common Sense
A VPN stands for virtual private network. There are dozens of them available (here are some examples), but they all work very similarly. Instead of accessing a website or other resource directly from your own device, you first access a server somewhere else.
For example, if you’re in the UK and you switch on a VPN from your phone, you could choose a server in Brazil so that every site you visit thinks that you’re in South America. Anyone spying on your connection won’t be able to see what you’re doing because VPNs are encrypted. Combining a VPN with all of the tactics mentioned below is a smart idea.
Another major thing to think about when browsing anonymously is much simpler than a VPN: don’t post your personal information anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re stealing someone’s Wi-Fi and using an encrypted VPN from a country you don’t normally visit…if you’re posting to Facebook or Twitter from an account that shows your face and name, you’re no longer being anonymous.
If you want to use a VPN, that’s great! It’ll work wonderfully to help you hide online. But you also have to think about what you’re sharing and doing once you’re connected. A VPN can’t make you 100% anonymous without a little common sense on your part.
Bank Anonymously: Crypto & Temp Cards
To suddenly move all your funds to an offshore, anonymous-sounding account just isn’t in the playbook for most people. But something that does work for basically everyone is to start using temporary debit cards when you need some anonymity.
They work a lot like your regular bank card except that when you buy something, instead of the money coming out of your bank, it first charges the temporary card’s bank and then your bank. This is a lot like how VPNs work.
The Privacy app is a great example of this kind of service. It’s totally free and provides a wall between you and the places you shop. For example, say you’re wanting to stay anonymous when shopping on a website you’ve never used before. Set up a Privacy card and use it when you buy the item. The shop will charge your temporary card, so they don’t see your real bank details. Your bank, when charged for the purchase, won’t see the shop you ordered from because it’ll look like you ordered something from Privacy.
Another way to buy anonymously is to use a cryptocurrency. Bitcoin is a huge name in this space, but there are others. Bitcoin is decentralized, so no one bank or institution is in charge of it. It works through money sending apps like Cash App.
Communicate Anonymously: Encrypted Apps
You’re probably already using one of these without realizing it, or you’ve at least heard about them. Much like the encryption built-in to VPNs, messaging apps that use encryption will prevent eavesdroppers from reading your messages. This applies to anything you’re sending: calls, texts, video, or email.
Signal is a big name here, as is Telegram. Both are 100% free ways to text anonymously. They work a lot like the texting app built-in to your phone, so you can still send texts, images, and video, and even make private audio and video calls.
Those apps don’t support email, so you’ll need something else to send emails anonymously. Again, there are loads of options here. 10minutemail is a neat one that opens an email account for just…10 minutes. For something a bit more robust and long-lasting, try ProtonMail or HushMail.
Anonymous chat rooms are another way to communicate with some protection. I recommend using a VPN in conjunction with those sites.