I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

Category: Privacy

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?)
Anonymous Web Surfing

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...

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Most recent comments on "I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me"

Posted by:

d blather
18 Jul 2011

I enjoy your newsletter and articles. HOWEVER. Font is too small and control+ it will not wrap.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Ctrl+ magnification works for me on both Firefox and Interne Explorer. What browser do you have?

Posted by:

18 Jul 2011

There is also ixquick or startpage.com

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

The magnification works in my version of Firefox as well, but once you enlarge past a certain point (and I think this is what the original poster meant) the text does not wrap. Instead, the reader must use horizontal scrolling to read.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

I don't know if it's the same thing or not, but I installed the disconnect.me app on Chrome and I've gotten less spam.

Ctrl+ also works on Chrome. Just say'n.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

Hi Bob,

I've used various anonymizers for years. I now use Cocoon, a plug in for Firefox that makes use of all of the Cocoon services. For example, notice the email address that I used for this reply. Cocoon will create a "Mailslot" that I will also be able to use in the future, unless I decide to delete that particular Mailslot. This makes my email address completely anonymous. And, of course, Cocoon also masks my IP address, as well as offering protection from malware.

You can read more about Cocoon here: https://getcocoon.com/support


Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

I don't have any problems viewing your pages.
FYI: I use Firefox 5.0 on a Windows 7 64-bit system.
I'm using resolution 1920 x 1200
on a digital Samsung SyncMaster 245BW.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

Hey, I'm not sure what you call it. But under your article: I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me. There is a link in the article: Does IP Address Reveal my Physical Location.
When I clicked on it there was an immediate pop up saying scan was being run on my computer and said I was infected. This has happened to me in the past and I ended up having to reformat my hard disk and re-install OS. This has happened to me twice this year and I've lost everything. This time I had to manually turn off computer to get out of it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The link you refer to is just another article on my site. Nothing sinister about it. My guess is that you have some sort of rogue malware that's pretending to "analyze" links for you. Tell me more about the popup, or run MBAM to remove any nasties on your computer. See http://askbobrankin.com/malwarebytes_antimalware.html

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

If your a "bad guy," I could see the need for this, but otherwise, why would anyone care?!! I could care less if someone sees me jumping onto askbobrankin.com or any site for that matter. Whoop-dee-doo is what I say!

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

Does the incognito window in Chrome keep you anonymous online?

Posted by:

20 Jul 2011

Derek, unfortunately the opposite is true. If you're a "good guy" and don't want your inbox spammed and you don't want websites being able to track your every move, then you may want to consider using an anonymizer. I'm not a bad guy; however, I do enjoy my privacy and that's not a bad thing. If you'd like to remain open, that's your perogative. There are probably more "good guys" choosing anonymity than there are "bad guys" doing so.

Posted by:

20 Jul 2011

I am not a tech and I don't tweek very well. I'll always be a newbe. So I need programs that pretty much run themselves. If I want the world to know what I am doing, I'll tell them. Otherwise, I prefer my privatcy. I refer to make the choice.

I looked for several years and finally found "WiTopia". A VPN provider and I could not be more satified. It starts about $40.00 a year, I chose the $60.00. It offers about 70 ports of entry from around the world
I have test it with 4 ip tracers & speedtest.net. They all id my ip as the WiTopia portal. It might be London, Milan or LA.

I also use Ghostery, a FF addon. It will list the trackers on any site you are on. My FF start page list no tracker, but the next site, any site, WILL have trackers, including google analytics.
As I type this comment, their are 9 trackers listed including google analytics, all of which I can choose to block if I want to. Its all about the FREEDOM to choose. I truly cherish freedom.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I have a problem with this Ghostery addon. It seems to refer to ANY javascript or cookie usage as a "tracker", which is just ridiculous and misleading.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2011

@Derek If your a "bad guy," I could see the need for this, but otherwise, why would anyone care?!! I could care less if someone sees me jumping onto askbobrankin.com or any site for that matter. Whoop-dee-doo is what I say!

That should read "If YOU'RE a bad...." and later I believe you meant You COULDN'T care less....?
Your grammar is atrocious!!

Posted by:

Press Releasez
09 Aug 2013

There is nothing wrong with browsing the web, good luck having it actually not being monitoring by some one in a round about way. Thanks for posting.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Strange that you would post spam about a free press release site, on the heels of the announcement by Google that links in press releases will count as a NEGATIVE in SEO scoring.

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