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How to stay virtually invisible online and be anonymous


“Ghosting” isn’t just a popular term thrown around for those in the modern dating world. People are now wondering how to “go ghost” online altogether. 

With virtually all your information being tracked online by some entity, it is nearly impossible to stay truly anonymous. Whether you want to keep your sensitive information safe or just want others to stay out of your business, you will need to make multiple changes to keep your identity hidden.

With social media giants like Facebook tracking your online activities across different websites (while you’re not even logged into Facebook) to every online retailer asking for your email address, it’s no wonder that people are looking for ways to stop the spread of their digital information. 

Below are some tips and tricks to stay as untraceable as possible.

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Person trying to stay anonymous online (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

How trackers collect and share your data across the web

Trackers are pieces of code that websites use to collect data about your online behavior, preferences, and identity. Some trackers aim to provide you with a more personalized experience by remembering your choices and information, but others have more intrusive and harmful purposes.

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These trackers can follow your actions across different websites and even after you close your browser, depending on how long they are stored on your device. This means that a lot of user data can be shared not only with the websites you visit, but also with other parties that can use it for various purposes, such as targeting ads, selling products, or profiling users. 

How ‘fingerprinting’ tracks you across the web

Advertisers are getting sneakier as consumers get wiser, and now employ a tactic called fingerprinting. The browser fingerprint is a collection of information from your phone, laptop, or computer, every time you use it. All the data that is collected about you from your language setting, time zone, and browser settings are collected and create a unique “fingerprint.”

Advertisers can then identify you even if you’re not inputting personally identifiable information such as an email address from one website to another. This sneaky tactic is done by advertisers and tech companies who embed a code into websites. 

Sadly, sometimes the website owners don’t even know that these codes, usually embedded as scripts, are on their websites either. Fingerprinting is nearly invisible and nearly impossible to prevent. While fingerprinting is a tricky method that is hard to be aware of and protect yourself from, below are a few actions you can take to make yourself more secure online.

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Fingerprints on a piece of paper (EFF)

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7 ways to enhance your online privacy and security

1) Go to the Cover Your Tracks Tool to get a real-time assessment of your system. The tool was developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends digital rights. The tool gives you a summary of your overall tracking protection and an overview of how visible you are to trackers, with an index (and glossary) of all the metrics they measure. 

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Cover Your Tracks tool (EFF)

MORE: HOW TO DELETE EMBARRASSING AUTOFILL ENTRIES ON YOUR MAC OR IPHONE BROWSERS

2. Download a better browser. While popular browsers such as Microsoft Edge and Safari are easy to use as it is often part of the base level operating system for Windows and Apple, respectively, there are better browser options with your anonymity in mind. Firefox, Brave, and Mullvad include more protective measures against trackers and allow you to set options to customize your preferences and security even more.

Tor, an even more secure browser, actually encrypts your data by passing it through several servers. It is actually resistant to fingerprinting by making all of its users ‘look’ the same, making it difficult to generate a ‘profile’ unique to you. The only caveat to an extra secure browser such as Tor is that it is slower than some of the less secure browsers.

3) Add browser extensions. If you’re married to using your current browser, you can add browser extensions to help block trackers, such EFF’s Privacy Badger. Not all browser extensions, however, are created equal. Privacy Badger only blocks ads that are tracking you, so you still get ads that aren’t tracking you.

MORE: TOP BROWSER EXTENSIONS TO MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER

4. Start searching more safely. Choose search engines that are privacy-focused, such as Brave Search. Read more about the characteristics of a secure browser and see our other top picks here.

5. Upgrade your email service. Some email providers use encrypted email servers, which are safer for sending and receiving messages. Check out our top three recommendations for the best private and secure email providers here

6. Use a VPN: (virtual private network) to encrypt your internet traffic and hide your online activity from being viewed by your providers and others. A VPN creates a secure tunnel between your device and the internet, preventing snoopers and hackers from intercepting or modifying your data. See my expert review of the best VPNs for browsing the web privately on your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

7. Change settings on your mobile devices. As you spend more time on your phone, advertisers are concocting ways to embed trackers into apps that are more commonly used. While some amount of data will likely be logged, you can limit the type and amount by making some key setting changes on your mobile device.

For details on how to change the privacy settings on your Android, here.

For details on how to change privacy settings on your iPhone, here.

MORE: TOP BROWSERS TARGETED BY NEW MALWARE TO STEAL YOUR SENSITIVE DATA

Kurt’s key takeaways

Scrubbing your complete whereabouts and activities online is nearly impossible, but there are effective ways to limit them. Even taking these steps can make you less and less traceable online. Who knows, you might eventually be able to ghost these advertisers, tech firms, and hackers.

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Are you concerned about your information and actions all being tracked online? What steps have you already taken to limit being tracked? What extra steps are you willing to take to be more anonymous? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.

For more of my tech tips & security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to Cyberguy.com/Newsletter.

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