There are two competing schools of thought on this subject – Internet Anonymity.

On one side we have companies such as Facebook and law makers who believe that the cause of all evil online is anonymity. While on the other hand we have internet activists and watchdogs who strongly feel that the internet is all about freedom and that freedom can only be in its true form if a person can choose to be anonymous online and can actually remain so. While there can be merit in both arguments, the one thing that everyone agree’s upon is that the internet does not need a big brother.

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Stories of data snooping by intelligence agencies keep hitting the tabloid everyday and this has caused an average internet user to be in a state of perpetual fear not knowing the consequence of his online activity. The most crucial of freedom, the freedom of speech, is not well defined in the online world. While the debate on internet anonymity may continue for many more years, as a daily internet user it becomes important for us to take the necessary measure to protect our identity and privacy online.

These simple steps will set you off in the right direction on being anonymous online.

– Delete browser Cookies

Most websites drop a ‘Cookie’ when you visit them. Websites use these cookies to improve your experience when you browse through the site. They do this by using Cookies to store information regarding your preferences such as language, pages that you last visited or in the case of a e-commerce site, the product categories that you browsed earlier, etc. While cookies generally do help in improving the browsing experience, many people prefer not allowing cookies to be dropped by websites into their browser. Most modern browsers come with an option to disable cookies. If you are very conscious about your privacy, you can choose to disable cookies and delete all existing cookies stored by your browser.

– Whenever possible use the secure https connection

The ‘s’ in https simply means that the connection between your browser and the website you are visiting is secure. Most online services such as your email service providers (google or hotmail) or bank websites that deal with sensitive data offers a https connection to their service. This indicates that all the data exchanged between your browser and your service provider’s server are encrypted, leaving little room for others to snoop in on the information. Always remember to add the ‘s’ to the end of your ‘http’ in the browser url section to switch to a secure connection.

– Clear search and browsing history

Search engines usually archive your search history. Remove them and disable the search history setting so that your future searches don’t get archived. You will also find an option on your browser to clear all browser history. Make it a practice to clear this data periodically.

– Download and run Tor

Tor is a blessing in disguise in today’s internet world. Tor helps to bounce your web traffic around a distributed network of relays that are run by volunteers. The destination site will never be able to learn your physical location; something that is easily given off by your IP. If you want to stay anonymous to the websites that you are visiting, then download and run Tor on your computer.

– Browser allow for ‘incognito’ mode

Most modern browsers come with a ‘incognito’ mode or a private browsing mode. When you browser the web under the incognito mode, the browser does not store any of your browsing history or data about files that you have downloaded. Even your browser cookies get deleted the moment you close your tabs that are in incognito mode.

– Disable Location sharing on browsers as well as on mobile apps

A lot of apps these days try to fetch your location information. This helps them deliver contextual information that is most relevant to you based on your current location. Apps that recommend restaurants or show cinema hall or offer discount vouchers for stores in your vicinity are all built on this principle. Put an effort to know which of your apps or services is using your location information. Learn how to manage what data you share with these apps and services.

– Be safe on the internet

Avoid visiting sites that look suspicious. Never provide your personal information on any site unless you are sure of its credibility. Avoid opening mails or links in mails that you might suspect as a spam. Make it a practice to change your passwords periodically and avoid using the same credentials across multiple accounts. Use online tools such as Password Meter or Strong Password Generator to choose passwords that are strong.

– Move to social networks that offer anonymity or privacy

With many concerns over data privacy, the internet is beginning to see many social networks and online services that are built on the foundational block of ‘anonymity’ and promises not to store any of your personal information or identity. Snapchat and Whisper are two good example of services that have really caught on in the recent times. Explore such alternatives and see which one meets your needs.

– Avoid free-wifi hotspots

Be cautious when using free wifi hotspots. if you own a wifi router, protect the network using a wireless access security such as WPA or WPA2, or in layman terms, just password protect your network. Always ensure that only authorised users are connected to your hotspot. While you choose to connect on free hotspots, ensure that your computer has a firewall and antivirus in place and can detect any compromise.

– Unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters and reminders

Over the years you must have subscribed to a ton of newsletters on various sites. To top this problem, spammers have also added your email ids to multiple email lists. This explains the number of unwanted emails that you receive everyday. The next time you spot such an email, make it a point to unsubscribe from the email list if you don’t want to receive it anymore. If you think that any of those emails are spams, then remember to mark it as one. This will help your email service provider to filter out such emails in the future.

– Share just what is necessary

Share as little as possible about yourself on social networks. You stand to gain nothing by disclosing information on your favourite movie, song, book, article, friends, etc. The whole idea of sharing more to have a better social experience is not a convincing enough reason to share all that personal details about yourself. Think twice before disclosing your mobile numbers, house address, bbm pin numbers, or any personal information on public domains.

The above tips should help you maintain a low profile online. What are some of the other steps that one can take to protect their identity and privacy online ? Please share your inputs in the comment section below.