Surf privately & anonymously: Let Data Broker get nothing
The Internet enables the free exchange of information as well as mass surveillance. With every second click, the shadow profile that data collectors have created about you grows. Surfing anonymously is therefore becoming increasingly important. Even if you have nothing to hide.
Statista polls show that 37 percent of Germans are bothered by ads based on their search history. According to Bitkom , around 68 percent believe that their personal data is not secure on the Internet. And indeed, the trade in user information is thriving online. So-called data brokers are responsible for this.
What is a data broker?
Data brokers know more about you than you would like. Image: © AdobeStock/undrey 2022
A data broker is a person or organization that trades in personal data. This business is quite lucrative: According to WebFX , it generates more than 200 billion euros a year worldwide. Through social media, public sources (OSINT) and web trackers, these traders collect as much information as possible, often bypassing applicable privacy policies.
If you are a potential customer for a buyer of this data, you suddenly get annoying calls, spam emails or even mail sent home. Here is some information about you that Clearcode says is worth real money to data brokers:
- First and Last Name
- E-mail address
- phone number
- personal interests
Surf privately or anonymously: What's the difference?
Semantic Question: Privacy and anonymity are not the same. Image: © AdobeStock/Looker_Studio 2022
If you want to protect your data on the Internet, there are two options: Either you surf privately or anonymously. PrivacyTools defines the difference as follows: Private is behavior in which you decide for yourself which information you disclose about yourself and which not. Anonymity means that your behavior cannot be assigned to a clear identity.
In theory, you can also use social networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube privately. But only by painstakingly revising your privacy settings and not sharing any information that is – well, too private for you.
The more private you want to surf, the more measures you have to take. For everyday use, this results in an individual compromise between safety and feasibility. It is also possible to surf almost completely anonymously. However, the effort is only worthwhile in rare cases.
Why a VPN isn't anonymous
VPNs are often touted as a silver bullet for anonymous surfing. However, a virtual private network (VPN) is usually nothing more than an intermediate station on your way to the Internet.
With a VPN, you enjoy selective privacy by hiding your IP address and location from websites. It can also make surfing behavior more opaque for your Internet provider. However, you should trust your VPN provider for this, because it would be easier for them to monitor you.
A VPN is not anonymous: the operator usually knows your exact identity. Free services in particular earn their money mainly by trading user data. And even with a different IP address, trackers can still easily assign your surfing behavior to a unique profile, for example through cookies.
Private browser: LibreWolf, Vivaldi & Brave
Fortunately, there are browsers with better privacy settings. Image: © LibreWolf / Vivaldi / Brave 2022
Cookies, fingerprinting, web trackers and scripts – there are many techniques that websites use to try to track your behavior even after you have left them. A private browser is a program that automatically blocks many of these techniques while surfing.
The basic settings of Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Safari offer very little privacy. The private surfing mode is limited to the fact that no browser history is saved and cookies are deleted after exiting.
There is another way: The LibreWolf browser is based on Firefox and comes with the pre-installed add-on uBlock Origin, an ad and tracking blocker. Brave and Vivaldi are also pleasant browser alternatives that offer an increased security standard.
Private search engine: Alternatives to Google, Yahoo and Bing
A search engine does not have to become encroaching. Image: © DuckDuckGo / Brave / Startpage.com 2022
Search engines want to deliver the best results. To do this, they need to analyze what their users are searching for and what results they are clicking on. But the big companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft with Bing collect a lot more and assign this information to your user profile.
You can already surf more privately by doing your internet searches on the competition: DuckDuckGo , Brave Search and Startpage search engines collect significantly less data about you and make their methods more transparent.
Almost every time you create an account on a website, you will be asked for your email address. If you always use your private e-mail for this, data leaks and data brokers ensure that it quickly falls into the wrong hands.
With so-called disposable e-mails, you give each website a different address when you register. So it is not so easy to infer which accounts belong to you. In addition, you will receive less spam on your private e-mail or you can prevent it more easily.
Popular disposable email providers include GuerrillaMail , DuckDuckGo , and 10MinuteMail . Please note that some providers delete received e-mails after a short time. Others allow private forwarding to your private address, so all messages are saved in your inbox.
Tor: Surf anonymously with the free browser
The Tor browser achieves the highest level of anonymity. Image: © The Tor Project, Inc. 2022
If you really want to surf anonymously, the best solution is theTor browser . This is being developed by a non-profit organization and enables internet access via onion routing. This means that your computer communicates with a network of volunteer participants, and each message has multiple layers of encryption, like an onion.
Since your internet requests are always sent via at least three rotating hubs (nodes), none of the participants can identify you. The first node knows your origin, but not the destination. The second node knows the first and the third node. The third node knows the destination, but not your origin.
So anonymous surfing is possible with the Tor browser. But its speed clearly leaves a lot to be desired. Due to the constant redirection of data traffic, it is significantly slower than direct Internet access or a fast VPN. This solution is rather unsuitable for everyday use. For journalists and activists, however, it can be a matter of life and death in some areas.
Anonymous operating system: Tails & Whonix
Are you still anonymous or already paranoid? For maximum security you need an anonymous operating system. Image: © Tails / Whonix 2022
Even the Tor browser does not prevent other programs on your computer from communicating normally via the Internet. For maximum anonymity on the Internet, you need an entire operating system. If everything really depends on keeping your identity a secret, Tails and Whonix are the best projects.
Tails is used by journalists around the world to bypass censorship and surveillance. Not only does it route all of your computer's traffic through the Tor network, but it's also equipped with other digital security tools. Tails is amnesiac, meaning any changes you make will be discarded after a reboot. This way no malware can settle in.
Whonix also routes all traffic through the Tor network. However, it uses two virtual machines that run as programs within your normal operating system. In contrast to Tails, no progress is lost here due to a restart. However, the parallel operation of several systems can also slow down the connection.
Conclusion: This is how private & anonymous surfing works
Surf anonymously: it works, but it's usually too cumbersome for everyday use. The tools presented can help you to disclose less information on the Internet. Ultimately, however, you alone are responsible for not revealing any intimate details and for protecting your identity.
- Do not use free VPNs and only choose trusted providers.
- Use a private browser like LibreWolf, Vivaldi or Brave.
- Search on sites with transparent privacy policies like DuckDuckGo, Brave Search, and Startpage.
- Use disposable email so your accounts are not linked and your personal email address stays private.
- You can surf anonymously with the Tor browser.
- You can achieve the highest degree of anonymity with the Tails and Whonix operating systems.