Staying Anonymous Online: Can you fully protect your identity?
Most of us don't think too much about being anonymous... in our every day lives and even when we are online. That's because over the years, especially in the U.S., people have been conditioned to provide some personal information to companies that we do business.
Mail comes to our house, with our name and address on it. Our phone numbers are "listed," and our names are right next to them. And if we want to buy anything online, which many people do, we have to provide our name, address, and payment information.
Most of us are trusting souls. But that's where trouble lies, and where some more and more of us are taking steps to be more invisible online. The word we used to describe that is anonymous.
That's not necessarily an everyday word, so here's a definition refresher. When you say a communication is anonymous, that means the person who sent it is unknown by name. If you want to remain anonymous in some situation, you're choosing not to have your name attached to your message or action, whatever that it.
Internet anonymity is a little different. Why? Because want to keep more than our name from being known: We don't want our personal, financial, and computer "identity" (from our IP address to our city and state) known as well. And we don't want any of it hijacked by hackers and crooks
We can control only so much.
We do have some control when it comes to limiting our risk our exposure online. After all, we can choose how much to tell anyone about ourselves, from people we send emails to businesses we do transactions with.
But after that, we lose a lot of control. Fact is, there are entities out there—businesses, advertisers, hackers, thieves, police or government institutions—that will collect data (legally or not) to watch what we're doing.
For a growing number of people, Internet anonymity means we should be able to conduct all or some activity on the Internet with anyone tracing that activity back to our individual computers... and ultimately, to us personally. Especially when a person has NOT given permission for anyone to do that.
Avoid Problems... Crime
Still, for most of us that just means we want to be treated decently and not have our private information (or private/personal Internet activities) abused. We don't want to be victims of identity theft or other Internet scams. We might not like it (or even know) that businesses are tracking our Zip codes, or that online advertisers have captured our IP address and send out custom ads, but we won't get up in arms about it.
For others (some decent folks, some not, some paranoid or activists), there's the desire to have NO traces of any kind, by anyone, on any our their Internet activity.
Supporters of total for Internet anonymity argue that it is the most important aspect of free speech on the Internet. Anonymity allows for Internet users to express themselves freely without worry of being discovered or tracked, ridiculed, or harassed. They would say that is important to online discussions and forums, especially forums involving personal questions or topics, such as sensitive medical issue.
Advocates might also say that Internet anonymity is important when it comes to sharing or giving information that really should remain anonymous, such as reporting illegal activities through on online tip. Would you want someone (reporters, crooks, etc.) to trace your police tips back to you?
On the other hand, it's no secret (or you just found out by reading this) that there are plenty of people who don't want to be tracked because they're into very illegal activities. They might support anonymity for some of the right reasons, but they also don't want the authorities to shut down or interrupt their illegal activities.
What Should You Do?
If you went shopping at a mall, you wouldn't give your name, address and phone number to any store that asked for it. And you wouldn't want someone following you around the mall, watching what you buy, and seeing how much money you have on you.
If you want to protect your privacy, limit how much personal information you post on the Internet. Remember, if you're on Facebook or LinkedIn, you've already given away a lot of privacy.
How far you go to protect your privacy depends on how you feel about anonymity. With a little research, you can find out how you can reduce how much advertisers, marketers others can find out about you. And you can learn how to protect your Internet activity by using a proxy or virtual private network, such as hidemyass.com.