On today’s web it’s hard to set a (digital) foot online without it attracting dozens of trackers and log entries, as companies look to learn everything about you and sell that data on to advertisers. To hide you’ve got a few tools at your disposal, many of which we’ve talked about in the past, and all of which add up to a largely anonymous browsing experience. What we can’t do is promise 100 percent that you won’t be tracked—we’re not privy to the inner workings of the FBI or your employer’s IT system—but this is as much as you can do.
Step 1: Going Incognito
Every browser has some sort of private or incognito mode: When you close down an incognito tab, it waves its hand, Jedi-style, to convince your computer and the web at large that the browsing session you just finished never actually happened.
None of your incognito-mode website visits are saved in your browser’s history, and searches aren’t stored either (at least in the browser—if you signed into Google before searching, they may be logged in the cloud).
Cookies and other types of local tracking data are wiped as well, so if you visit a news site in incognito mode first, and then in a regular tab, that site won’t have any knowledge of your previous visit—unless, as with Google, you logged in somewhere.
If you want to stay anonymous online though, incognito mode only really keeps you anonymous as far as your local computer goes. Your internet service provider (ISP) can still recognize your computer and the sites you’re visiting, and so can your employer, government agencies, and anyone else who might be listening in.
Sign into any site, though, and your cover is blown. Not just for that site, but also to any other partners that it shares data with. Facebook, Google, and other firms track you across multiple sites, so even if you only log into one account, other connected accounts can still be tracking what you’re up to online.
Incognito mode is best used when you want your browsing activity to be invisible to other people who use your computer, or who steal it, or who sneak on to it. It’s useful, but to be well and truly anonymous, you need a bigger cloak.
Step 2: Tunneling Out Via VPN
Enter the VPN or Virtual Private Network program, one of the best tools you’ve got when it comes to staying anonymous and safe on the web. It’s particularly useful when you’re on public Wi-Fi, because it encrypts the data coming to and going from your computer.
Whichever VPN you choose and install—and we’d recommend…