Free tools for protecting your privacy and anonymity when browsing the web.–PC Pitstop
Browsing the Web Anonymously
Free Tools for Anonymous Web Browsing
Lately, a number of government figures have declared their opposition to citizens’ use of encryption and other techniques to evade surveillance. Nobody wants the bad guys to win, but the good guys deserve privacy, and in some cases, anonymity. Let’s take a look at some free tools that help with that…
Covering Your Tracks Online
If something upsets government snoopers it must be worth knowing; right? So let’s review the state of anonymous Web browsing techniques.
First, we need to distinguish between anonymity and privacy. Privacy is when your activities are unknown; anonymity is when your identity is unknown. I know the people who live in the house across the street from mine; they are not anonymous to me. But I don’t know what they do in the privacy of their home. Conversely, I saw exactly what was done to the tree in my front yard on Halloween but I have no idea who did it because they were disguised; that’s anonymity without privacy.
Anonymity is useful for acting publicly (without privacy) while avoiding consequences, as my neighborhood Halloween vandals knew. On the Internet, anonymity can avert the consequences of government or commercial surveillance. The consequences may be as harmless as creepily targeted ads or as grave as a no-knock raid at 2AM.
I’ve written about anonymity and privacy tools frequently over the years. My 2011 article, I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me explains Tor and similar Web proxy services thoroughly. The short story is that a proxy service substitutes its IP address for yours in HTTP requests that are sent to Web sites, and strips cookies and other tracking tools from Web content before passing it back to you. You never interact directly with a Web site so it has no way of learning about you or attaching “bugs” to your browser. There is no record anywhere that you ever visited a particular Web site, let alone of what you did there.
The anonymity of the Web proxy model is not perfect. It is possible to infer “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you were the one downloading copyright-protected movies via a proxy server if your connection to the proxy server, because your IP address is in every exchange of data between your device and the proxy server. If the pattern of traffic passing through your connection to the proxy matches the traffic pattern between the proxy and a server of illegal movies, a government agent can probably get a search warrant. So it is not enough to be anonymous to the Web site that serves you. You also need some privacy; you do not want your IP address or your Web traffic pattern observed.