How to Avoid Getting Tracked While You're Online

How to conceal your digital identity

Woman sitting at table using laptop

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Google, the RIAA, government agencies, and other entities track your online habits in today's computing environment, where complete privacy is a myth. However, you can use these tools and techniques to help preserve your privacy and minimize intrusions.

Sharing and Downloading Files Anonymously

If your objective is to download and upload files anonymously, you can use a service that will mask your computer's internet protocol (IP) address. Such services typically charge a small monthly fee or require you to purchase software, and the bandwidth allotments are usually more than adequate. Such services include and The Cloak. Mute Anonymity is a non-profit project dedicated to peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading.

Surfing and Emailing Anonymously

If retribution for your political ideals or the controls of an oppressive government in your country are concerns, free proxy and VPN servers can help.

A more reliable choice to address these issues, however, is a special two-part freeware solution by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) aimed at protecting the democratic freedoms of private citizens. This platform is made up of Tor and Privoxy, which you install on your own computer. Together, they "scramble" and conceal your online identity as a free public service, partly by hiding your computer's IP address.

Tor is a special network of web servers run by the EFF and volunteer server administrators. Privoxy is the software needed to connect to this Tor network.

Tor Anonymous Browsing. Melanie Pinola

They accomplish this by bouncing your signal around several internet servers called Tor onion routers. Much as Hollywood spy movies depict a telephone call being routed around dozens of false phone locations, so is your online identity when masked by these special Tor servers. Your true IP address is effectively hidden when you surf, email, and download through the Tor onion network.

Limits of Privoxy and Tor

The Privoxy and Tor products are still imperfect, and they do not guarantee your anonymity. Plus, they won't conceal your online activities in government and some corporate computing environments. As a start, however, Tor and Privoxy do reduce your exposure to surveillance and make you far more difficult to track. If this is important to you, you'll likely find this solution worth the slight slowdown in connection speed.

The Tor Network was designed to protect private citizens' personal privacy, especially when it comes to freedom of speech, conscience, and democracy — not to enable the illegal sharing of copyrighted material. Do not abuse the Tor-Privoxy system by turning it into a P2P downloading avenue. Aside from the moral implications, doing so puts you at risk of prosecution.