I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me
Just about everything you do on the Internet is being watched by someone. Well, maybe watching isn't the best word to describe it, but you still might be surprised at how much of your online activity is logged, tracked or accessible for review. If that bothers you, bone up on these anonymous web browsing techniques...
Anonymous Web Browsing
For some people, the ability to surf the Web anonymously is very important. They don't want their ISP, the government, marketers, or anyone else to be able to trace their Web activities back to them. For some, anonymity enables expression of unpopular or even dangerous political opinions. But this two-edged anonymity sword also enables bullying, libel, hacking, cheating, and other unsavory activities. But in most cases, people just want to be left alone. If online anonymity is your thing, consider an anonymous Web browsing service.
When you connect to your internet service provider (ISP), it assigns an IP address to your router or computer. When you send an HTTP request to a Web site by clicking on a link or entering a URL in your browser's address bar, the request includes your IP address. But it also enables tracing of all of your Web activity right back to you. There's nothing evil about this... websites can't reply to your request to view a page unless they know where to send the data. (To learn more about what information is and is NOT revealed when you visit a website, see Does IP Address Reveal my Physical Location?)
Your ISP knows who was assigned a given IP address at any given time. Web sites keep logs of the IP addresses of visitors, what they requested, and what they downloaded or posted on the sites. It is difficult to piece together this information to compile a dossier of your Web activity. It requires the cooperation of your ISP, which generally is given only in response to a court order in a criminal or civil case. But such orders are becoming more common.
How Do Anonymizers Work?
An anonymous Web browsing service substitutes its IP address for yours in HTTP requests, and keeps no records of its users' activities. It retrieves the Web content that you want on your behalf and forwards it along to your browser. As far as your ISP can tell, you visited ONLY the anonymizer's Web site. This effectively breaks the chain of evidence that can be traced back to you.
You can use a "proxy" or "anonymizer" as these services are often called, in one of two ways. You can go to the anonymizer Web site and enter the URL that you wish to retrieve, or you can install software that connects to the anonymizer and works in the background.
Most anonymizers also prevent Web cookies from reaching your computer, eliminating another method by which Web sites track your online activities. However, blocking cookies can make it more difficult to use Web services. Shopping carts, wish lists, display preferences, and other features depend on cookies. It's important to remember that neither cookies nor your IP address can identify you by name or location, unless you willingly surrender that information when making a purchase or signing up for an online service.
There are thousands of anonymizer services available; just search for "anonymous Web browsing" and you find plenty. Anonymizer.com is one of the oldest and most popular. Many anonymizers charge a fee, but some are offered free of charge. And there are bogus sites which claim to be anonymizers, but they're actually trying to trick people into downloading malware. Visit PeaceFire for more information on proxy and anonymizer sites.
Anonymous e-mail services use similar identity screening technology. They allow you to use their servers to send and receive e-mails or text messages without revealing your true identity. Check out my article on disposable email addresses for examples.
Anonymizers are not hassle-free. Underfunded free anonymizers often bog down under large traffic loads. Some Web sites block traffic coming from known anonymizers. And blocking cookies may make a Web site difficult to use. But anonymizers can improve the protection of your online privacy.
Have you used an anonymizer? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 18 Jul 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me (Posted: 18 Jul 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved