This is the second installment of our two-part series on being completely anonymous online. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.
Cookies and trackers
Many cookies are benign. They ensure speedier loads and optimized displays according to your preferences. Cookies remember your passwords and items in your shopping cart after your last visit and generally make your life as easy as possible, but that’s par of the problem: cookies have left us lazy and unquestioning of a site’s trustworthiness.
While the site’s own cookies might not be particularly invasive, the third party cookies it allows will certainly be less trustworthy, and they’re the reason you have creepy adverts relevant to your recent searches and browsing habits.
CCleaner is another recommended piece of software that removes cookies and codes set in place by websites. It also deletes all temporary files and site caches stored by your browser.
Other ways to reduce the amount of tracking that’s done on your browsing habits include using incognito/private browsing (a very low level of privacy and anonymity, but fewer cookies are saved in this mode and caches aren’t created to store elements of the website on your computer to ensure speedier loads) and using search engines such as DuckDuckGo, Ixquick and Startpage which don’t track you or create a profile on you to sell.
Emails are the weakest link in the privacy chain. Not only are you flagged the moment you sign up to any account, you’re also vulnerable to many eyes along the chain.
“If you’d have said to someone 40 years ago that your postbox will be in a corporation’s office, and that corporation will read your letters, they would have said you were crazy,” says Fair IT activist Daniel Erlacher. “But that’s what is happening right now.”
Everything you send on almost all email services is being scanned and recorded, and it’s therefore vulnerable. There are GPG encryption plug-ins available for all current email clients which use public and private key cryptography. These are an important safeguard, but don’t create total anonymity.
“Even when you encrypt email, people can still see who you write to, how often, when and the size of the email,”Erlacher explains. “From that, someone can develop a profile and a network of who is connected to whom. Email is an old technology but it will evolve into another messaging system where the metadata isn’t visible anymore.”
Email hosts that offer more security include Mozilla’s Thunderbird, which works with the Enigmail add-on to encrypt emails for free. A certain degree of anonymity can also be achieved by using disposable email addresses, especially if you’re using a VPN. Sites such as Guerrillamail, ThrowAwayMail and Mailinator creates random email address that exist and show replies and responses while your browser remains open.
Don’t stop at email, either. Search for more secure, ad-free alternatives to Miscrosoft’s Skype or Facebook’s WhatsApp for your chat and messages. Tox and Linphone are open source and have heavier encryption than Skype. Pidgin, meanwhile, is an open source client that calls contacts on various chat platforms with added encryption plugins and XMPP technology. Jitsi is another alternative video chat that has an additional privacy safeguard in that you don’t save your network in an easy-to-find database.
“The minute you have a contact list saved then there is a weakness, because you always need a server.” Erlacher says. “Tor Messenger or Ricochet are the most anonymous ways to communicate because they’re de-centralized and the information doesn’t remain on any server.”
Believe it or not, social media is also possible while maintaining a private online life.
Open-source, decentralized social media networks Diaspora, Minds.com and Synereo provide everything we enjoy from Facebook without giving away any of our privacy or selling our details. They also allow you to create your own identity.
There’s only one thing missing, though. “The problem is, if all your friends are on one social media platform you can’t contact them from another,” Erlacher explains. “With mobiles, you can call someone on any provider. At present, you can’t do that from one social media account to another.”
“It’s unjust and discussions like these will highlight the issue. We need an openness between interfaces and a possibility of everyone being able to export all their data like you can take your phone number from one provider to the next.”
Like everything, social media is subject to trends. Remember MySpace?
Your other devices
For the most anonymous and private online life possible, the same steps need to be applied to your mobile and tablet devices.
Almost all of the above tips can be applied, with the exception of changing your operating system to Linux (which technically can be done, but we wouldn’t recommend it.) Tools such as CCleaner, NoScript and Thunderbird are all available for handheld devices and, if you’re using a VPN, make sure your service includes use on other devices.
Private encrypted chat is also possible on phones using Open Whisper Systems’ Signal application, which is available for all operating systems, while Tor browsing is possible for both Android and Apple with Orbot and Red Onion respectively.
So, while you can live life online totally anonymously, the nearer reality is achieving something closer to privacy. It takes time and dedication, but taking any of these steps will change your entire relationship with technology and help you know what’s going on under the bonnet of the technology that plays such a strong role in our lives. For the sake of our own personal security, it’s something we should all be aiming for.
Once you’ve secured your online anonymity, check out Kim Kardashian acting out her Kimojis.
- Words: Dave Jenkins