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10 ways to ensure internet anonymity

Verified by Amy Reeves

74 years ago, in his book 1984, George Orwell wrote of a society characterised by mass, near-constant surveillance: where “eyes follow you about as you move”.

Yet, while neither 1984 or 2023 have quite lived up to that dystopian vision’s darkest predictions, surveillance is a prominent aspect of modern life. And we’re not just referring to the fact that, in the UK, 7.5 CCTV cameras exist per 10 people, or that, via the snoopers’ charter, the government has legal licence to hack, en masse, into its citizens’ devices.

We’re talking about the internet.

From cookies and trackers to phishing and malware, it seems everyone – be it internet service providers, businesses, advertisers, fraudsters, hackers, or governments – wants to spy on our online activity. Whether it’s to mine our data to provide personalised ads, keep tabs on our location, or use our data for illegitimate gain, these actors can use the internet against us – so it pays to stay anonymous.

That’s why, below, we’re providing our top 10 ways to help you regain anonymity online. From masking your IP address through a VPN (virtual private network) or proxy to switching to privacy-focused search-engine and email-provider alternatives, these methods will help ensure your private browsing activity, conversations, and searches stay that way – private.

1. Using VPNs

Our first tip for staying anonymous online? Choosing, downloading, and installing a VPN on every device you use to browse the internet.

VPNs allow you to establish a secure and encrypted connection to the internet. By routing your internet traffic through one of its own servers, VPN providers (such as Nord VPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark VPN) conceal your device’s real IP address.

This makes it extremely difficult for any websites you visit to trace your online activities back to you, and prevents third parties – such as hackers or the government – from intercepting and eavesdropping on your internet traffic. (For an in-depth look at how the UK government is able to do just that, explore our guide to the Online Safety Bill and Investigatory Powers Act – just make sure you’re sitting down, first!)

What’s more, VPNs allow you to connect to servers from around the world; enabling you to mask your real IP address with one from a huge range of different countries. You could be sitting, for example, at your home in London, while accessing a website with an IP address from Florida, USA. VPNs also often assign the same IP address to multiple users – making it even more challenging to attribute online activity to a specific individual.

Not only does this VPN feature obscure your actual geographical location – thus enhancing your anonymity online – it also has a range of other benefits.

If you’re based in the UK but travelling overseas, for instance, you can use a VPN to appear, to the internet, as though you’re still in the UK – allowing you to tap into British Netflix and TV networks, and avoid missing out on the latest Coronation Street action. VPNs are also useful for unblocking websites in China – where the BBC, Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube are all banned – and for when you’re in other countries with totalitarian internet censorship regimes.

The best VPN providers also have strict “no logs” policies – so they don’t keep records of your online activities, and thus wouldn’t be able to share these, even if requested to.

For the latest VPN reviews, comparisons, and how-to guides, explore Independent Advisor’s VPN hub – or jump straight to the top 9 things to consider when choosing a VPN.

2. Employing proxy servers

One alternative to a VPN – albeit not quite as comprehensive from a security standpoint, and with slightly differing purposes – is a proxy server.

A proxy server is an intermediary server that acts as a conduit between your device and the internet. Similar to a VPN, it routes your traffic through a proxy server to hide your own IP address from the websites you visit. Unlike a VPN, however, a proxy server doesn’t mask your IP address with one belonging to the VPN provider – which also means it’s unable to match VPNs’ handy geolocation-morphing features.

All this, combined with the fact that most proxies don’t offer VPN-quality levels of encryption, means that – while proxy servers do have their uses – VPNs are a better choice for staying anonymous online.

That said, proxy servers aren’t one-trick ponies. As well as masking your IP address, they fulfil several other important roles.

For one, proxy servers are top-notch content filterers, meaning they can block access to specific websites or content types (China, as we mentioned earlier, is particularly adept in this field.) On a personal level, though, content filtering is good for minimising the role of annoying ads – or the part malicious websites play in tampering with your device’s security.

Secondly, proxy servers are useful for caching website content, which – long story short – can reduce your bandwidth usage and speed up your access to the sites you visit most. (This doesn’t help you online anonymity, sure – but it is extremely convenient.)

For a more detailed explanation of the differences between VPNs and proxy servers, check out our frequently asked questions below.

3. Chatting on secure and encrypted messaging platforms

When we talk about staying anonymous online, we don’t just mean accessing websites or using search engines – but the messages you send to friends, family, and colleagues every day.

So if you want your private messages to remain that way, ensure you’re using a messaging app that supports end-to-end (E2E) encryption. Essentially, E2E encrypted messages are scrambled at the source, and only unscrambled once they land on the recipient’s device. In between, the messages remain in an unreadable, ciphertext form – meaning no one (not even the messaging app itself) can access their content.

E2E encrypted messaging apps safeguard your conversations from government surveillance (we’re looking at you, snoopers’ charter), as well as hackers and other bad actors. No one can read the messages you send and receive, and you’ll also be protected against data mining and profiling by advertisers or other third parties. That means companies won’t be able to tailor ads to you based on the content of your messages, or access your data for other purposes.

Popular messaging apps that use end-to-end encryption include: 

  • WhatsApp
  • Signal
  • iMessage
  • Telegram

4. Switching to privacy-focused search engines

Ah, Google. A handy tool we use every day, that wants nothing but the best for us, to answer our questions, furnish us with information, and send us happily on our way.

Well… not exactly.

Google and other major search engines collect vast swathes of data about your search queries. Then, they use this information to supply you with targeted ads, all while building up a bank of data (called a ‘user profile’) about your preferences and proclivities online.

It’s unpalatable, to say the least. But fortunately, it’s also avoidable – especially if you switch to a privacy-focused search engine when you browse the internet., for example: 

  • DuckDuckGo
  • Searx
  • Startpage
  • Qwant 

Unlike their mainstream counterparts, privacy-oriented search engines do not track your search history, or create detailed profiles of your activity online; nor will they sell or share your information with the prying eyes of third parties.

What’s more, none of the queries you make on a privacy-focused search engine will be linked to your identity – making it even harder for advertisers to trace what you look for online back to you, and fill up your display with ‘targeted’ ads.

Sure – with a privacy-first search engine, you will sacrifice personalisation. But, while results tailored specifically to your habits and interests can be convenient, they can also put you in an information bubble or echo chamber, filtering your informational input and limiting your exposure to diverse views.

Don’t settle for less than total privacy when you search online – leave Google behind, and start experiencing the online anonymity the likes of DuckDuckGo and Qwant provide.

5. Utilising anonymous email services

Though we use them every day, most email services – just like search engines – are not private.

In the same way Google mines your searches to sell to you, email providers (like, funnily enough, Google’s Gmail) track your activity and collect your personal information. Worse still, some may even go as far as to read your emails – all for the purposes of serving you tailored ads.

The alternative? Switching to an anonymous email service. As the name suggests, these providers allow you to use disposable, pseudonymous email addresses unanchored from your real identity. (Forget; think Anonymous email services won’t track you, share your data, or divulge the contents of your emails, nor do they tend to require much personal information during the sign-up process. 

Better still, anonymous email providers use technologies like E2E encryption – allowing you to keep your email conversations private. Plus, some even have advanced security functionality you’d normally only expect from more established mainstream providers: including spam filters and phishing protection features.

Popular anonymous email service providers include:

  • ProtonMail
  • Guerilla Mail
  • Mailfence
  • Tutanota

6. Installing browser extensions for privacy

Web browsers are our gateway to the internet, and all the wonders that lay within it. However, they can also be a significant source of privacy concerns. Particularly if they’re out of date: recent research demonstrated that over half of all browsers are vulnerable to CVEs (common vulnerabilities and exposures) simply because they’re out of date.

Of course, updating your browser is important. (And if you haven’t done this recently, go do it now; we’ll wait.) But for a more comprehensive layer of anonymity online, there’s a range of security-conscious browser extensions and add-ons you can install.

Privacy-focused browser extensions can help protect you from a litany of online threats – including phishing attacks, tracking scripts, and malicious websites – while blocking invasive trackers from scraping your data as you search. Some of these extensions even mask your IP address for you, although few offer coverage as comprehensive as a VPN does.

Some of the privacy-prioritising browser extensions we recommend include:

  • HTTPS Everywhere, which ensures you only connect to websites via HTTPS connections where possible.
  • DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials, which offers enhanced privacy features such as tracker blocking, encryption, and private search.
  • Cookie AutoDelete, which automatically deletes cookies from websites you’ve recently accessed to prevent long-term tracking.
  • Privacy Badger, which automatically blocks third-party cookies.
  • Decentraleyes, which – by locally serving common JavaScript libraries, and reducing your reliance on external CDNs (content delivery networks) – protects your privacy.
  • uBlock Origin, which, true to its name, blocks ads and tracking scripts.

7. Using the Tor browser

“Tor” stands for “The Onion Router” – so called for the way it masks the origin of traffic through several layers of volunteer-operated servers.

A modified version of Mozilla Firefox, the Tor browser integrates with the Tor network: concealing your IP address and encrypting your online activity by routing it through those aforementioned servers (called “relays” or “nodes”).

Because of the way these nodes are set up, each one knows only about the ones immediately before and after it in the chain. This hides the origins and destinations of all data packets traversing the network – giving those who use it the satisfaction of reclaiming their online anonymity, and preventing websites from tracking them.

Like VPNs (but unlike proxy servers), the Tor browser can unblock access to banned or censored content. However, these tools aren’t mutually exclusive – and for one of the most comprehensive online security setups you can have, we suggest using the Tor network in combination with a VPN for the best (and most incognito) results.

8. Avoiding public wifi for sensitive tasks

We’ve all been guilty of it – perhaps abroad, straight after arriving in another country. You step off the Eurostar or into the airport after a long journey, and you need some wifi – perhaps to let your family know you’ve arrived, or find out how to get to your hotel.

Searching, you tap into the nearest wifi network at hand – a public one. Yet, while these are undoubtedly convenient (well, when they work at least!), shared wifi networks come with risk.

For one, public wifi networks tend either to be unencrypted or use only weak encryption – making it easy for attackers to intercept your traffic. While that might be as innocuous as ‘best cafes near me’, it could also include your personal communications, financial transactions, and login credentials – so information you certainly don’t want to be sharing.

Secondly, public wifi networks can leave you vulnerable to Man-in-the-middle attacks, where an unauthorised third party intercepts (and sometimes alters) communications between two parties – both of whom believe they’re communicating with each other.

Third – and here’s where it pays to be particularly vigilant – public wifi networks may not be what they seem. They could, instead, be networks (called “malicious hotspots”) set up by hackers to parrot the look and feel of a public wifi network. They might be called, for example, “Free Airport Wifi” or “Free London City Wifi” to lure people in. When unsuspecting users do connect, however, the attackers can easily monitor and manipulate their online activities, and steal sensitive information.

The solution? Avoid public wifi networks wherever possible. (Connecting to the internet through a mobile data connection is generally much more secure.) If you must use public wifi, connect to it through a VPN – at a minimum – or install one of the secure browser extensions we discussed above (HTTPS Everywhere, for instance).

If this isn’t possible, at least avoid searching for anything sensitive, or accessing any mobile banking or unencrypted messaging apps. Once you’re done, be sure to “forget” the network, too – preventing your device from automatically connecting to it again in the future.

9. Implementing end-to-end encrypted cloud services

Every day we take photos, send messages, create documents, and share files. Yet, when our devices run out of space, we inevitably need somewhere to store all this media – and the cloud has become an increasingly popular way of doing so.

But is our data safe ‘up there’? Well, that depends on the cloud services you use. So, to ensure the anonymity of your saved media, we recommend choosing an E2E encrypted cloud service.

In the same way ProtonMail encrypts your emails and WhatsApp encrypts your messages, E2E encrypted cloud services – such as, MEGA, and Tresorit – safeguard your privacy by ensuring your files only for you.

Yes, even the cloud service provider itself can’t snoop – nor will your files ever become privy to the interested eyes of surveilling governments or warrantless data requests. Even if the provider is hacked or suffers a data breach, your files are encrypted – and without their unique decryption keys, remain virtually impossible to access.

10. Regularly clearing browser cookies and data

Cookies. In some contexts delicious, but – from an online anonymity standpoint, at least – invasive and unwanted.

Cookies are small pieces of data websites store on your device to remember your information. Cookies track your activity throughout websites and help advertisers paint an (often scarily) accurate picture of your online interests and behaviours. And, while cookies are ultimately legitimate – and even have helpful purposes, such as remembering your login status and preferences on websites – they don’t offer much in the way of anonymity online.

That’s why regularly clearing cookies from your browser can help. Doing this minimises the size of the data pool cookies can dip into for information about you, and – should any of the websites tracking you be targeted by a successful data breach – reduces the risk of large amounts of your information being exposed.

Not sure how to clear your cookies? We’ve briefly summarised the process across four of the most popular browsers – Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Safari – below.

Clear browser cookies on Google Chrome

  1. Click on the three dots in the upper-right corner to open the menu.
  2. Select “Settings.”
  3. Scroll down and click on “Privacy and security.”
  4. Under “Privacy and security,” click on “Clear browsing data.”
  5. Choose the time range (e.g., last hour, last 24 hours, all time).
  6. Select “Cookies and other site data.”
  7. Click “Clear data.”

Clear browser cookies on Mozilla Firefox

  1. Click on the three horizontal lines in the upper-right corner to open the menu.
  2. Select “Options.”
  3. Go to “Privacy & Security.”
  4. In the “Cookies and Site Data” section, click “Clear Data.”
  5. Choose “Cookies and Site Data” and “Cached Web Content.”
  6. Click “Clear.”

Clear browser cookies on Microsoft Edge

  1. Click on the three horizontal dots in the upper-right corner to open the menu.
  2. Select “Settings.”
  3. Scroll down and click on “Privacy, search, and services.”
  4. Under “Clear browsing data,” click on “Choose what to clear.”
  5. Select “Cookies and other site data.”
  6. Click “Clear.”

Clear browser cookies on Safari (macOS)

  1. Open Safari.
  2. In the top menu, click on “Safari” and select “Preferences.”
  3. Go to the “Privacy” tab.
  4. Select “Manage Website Data.”
  5. Click “Remove All.”

Anonymity vs privacy

Throughout this article, we’ve used terms like ‘anonymity’ and ‘privacy’ a lot – often interchangeably. But are they really the same thing?

Let’s define both terms, dive into the anonymity vs privacy debate, and explore why both concepts hold important places in the dynamic, sometimes dark, digital realm.

What is internet privacy?

Internet privacy refers to both the right and ability to control and manage the personal data you share or generate online.

Privacy, in an online sense, encompasses safeguarding sensitive data – including your name, contact details, and financial information, plus details about your browsing behaviour and habits on the internet – from unauthorised access, use, or disclosure.

The principles of internet privacy say that it’s you, and you alone, who dictates what information about you is collected – as well as how it’s used, and who’s using it.

What is internet anonymity?

Internet anonymity is a subset of privacy and refers to the state of being able to browse the internet without revealing your true identity – or exposing any personal or sensitive information. When you’re anonymous online, it’s difficult for anyone to trace your actions, communications, and entire online presence back to you as an individual.

Contrasting the two: key differences

While internet anonymity and internet privacy do cover a lot of the same ground, it’s important to understand the nuances and finer points of each.

To that end, we’ve created this table to help:

Internet anonymity Internet privacy
Focus Is primarily concerned with concealing your identity and activities when you browse online. Is about controlling access to – and use of – your personal information through the internet.
Scope Is a subset of privacy related specifically to identity concealment. Encompasses a broader range of concerns, including data protection and consent.
Visibility Is the practice of making yourself less visible and traceable online. Focuses on controlling the visibility of your sensitive data online.
Usage Is used to protect your identity when you engage in specific online activities or communication. Applies to all aspects of your presence and interactions online – including your everyday activities.

Why both matter in the digital realm

Anonymity and privacy may have their differences, but – when it comes to their importance, at least – they share plenty of common ground.

Internet anonymity, for instance, provides freedom of expression, which is vital to the foundational beliefs of modern, democratic societies.

It allows people to communicate without fear of reprisals, and – whether living their lives, protesting an oppressive regime, or simply doing their jobs – do so free from persecution or harassment based on what they say, what they believe, or who they vote for. (Many journalists, activists, and whistleblowers, for instance, use the Tor network to communicate safely.)

Similarly, internet privacy stands against the unauthorised access or abuse of sensitive information in order to safeguard online users from identity theft and financial fraud. Privacy extolls principles like informed consent: calling for more transparency around how organisations collect, use, and distribute data, and for users’ ability to be able to delete, modify, or restrict access to the information companies keep about them.

So, yes – internet anonymity and privacy matter.

Perhaps, in fact – in a world of near-constant surveillance; where companies can hoover up as much of our data as they like, then shrug their shoulders when it’s cast, via a data breach, to the deepest crevasses of the Dark Web – these concepts matter more than ever.

Does Chrome’s Incognito make you anonymous online?

Chrome’s Incognito mode does provide a modicum of internet privacy. But in terms of anonymity, it falls far short of the levels VPNs, proxy servers, and the Tor network all provide.

So let’s unpack Incognito mode’s top features, and explore what it does – and doesn’t – do.

Incognito’s features

When you search in Incognito mode, Chrome won’t store your browsing history on your device. 

Then, when you close the Incognito window you’ve been searching from, it won’t save the websites you visited – or any cookies or cached data – from the session, nor any autofill data (such as usernames or passwords) you inputted into forms.

Incognito mode also disables most browser extensions by default. So, if you’re worried about being tracked by particular extensions, Incognito mode can assuage these fears.

Beyond this, though, Chrome Incognito’s anonymity-providing benefits end. So let’s dive deeper into Incognito mode’s main drawbacks – and what the alternatives are.

The limits of Incognito browsing

Chrome’s Incognito does offer anonymity, but here’s the catch: it only provides local anonymity.

So, while your browsing history from a closed Incognito session will be permanently deleted from your device, it hasn’t been deleted from the internet. That’s because Incognito mode does not mask your IP address while you browse; meaning third parties, such as your internet service provider (ISP) and network administrator, can still identify your approximate location; and, should they choose, monitor your online activity.

What’s more, while we know that Incognito mode does delete cookies after you close the window, that doesn’t prevent websites tracking you through other means, such as browser fingerprinting (which we’ll explain in more detail below, in the FAQs). Plus, some particularly persistent websites use ‘supercookies’ to cobble together your visits to different websites, and develop an even deeper, eerier understanding of your online habits. (And Incognito is powerless against them.)

Needless to say, Incognito mode doesn’t protect you from phishing or malware attacks, nor does it apply E2E encryption to your traffic. If you do want to stay anonymous online, don’t rely on Incognito mode – download and install a VPN, and combine it with the other techniques we’ve mentioned here (including privacy-focused search engines and browser extensions, as well as the Tor network) for the most fool-proof layer of protection.

In summary

5.18 billion people around the world use the internet to live, work, communicate with loved ones, and learn more about the world around them. Despite its faults, then, the internet is brilliant – but that doesn’t mean we should settle for being surveilled on it.

Accessing the internet shouldn’t be a kind of Faustian bargain, in which we must trade our right to privacy and anonymity to get online. And ultimately, we shouldn’t have to install VPNs or switch to DuckDuckGo to avoid unwarranted, unchecked monitoring, or endure a bombardment of ‘tailored’ ads every time we scroll through our social media feeds.

But the reality of the internet dictates that we must. And its billions of global users can, at least, take solace in the fact that there are a few ways (10, in fact) to regain anonymity online – and keep the roving, raking gaze of ‘Big Brother’ at bay.

Frequently asked questions about internet anonymity

No, VPNs and proxy servers are different. While they do share similar attributes and methods – funnelling your traffic through an intermediary to mask your IP address, for instance – their respective purposes, features, and use cases differ.

VPNs provide a secure, encrypted connection between your device and a VPN server and are designed for security and privacy: to protect you from eavesdropping and cyberattacks. Crucially, they route all your traffic through the VPN provider’s servers and replace your IP address with that of the VPN server. VPNs tend to be used for maintaining online privacy, anonymity, and security, as well as unlocking geo-restricted content.

Proxy servers, on the other hand, generally do not encrypt your internet traffic and relay your data without encrypting it first. They offer some security features, but aren’t designed with online anonymity and privacy in mind and, while they hide your IP address, they don’t offer the same level of privacy as a VPN. Proxy server route only specific websites, or types of traffic, through the proxy and are more commonly used to bypass content filters, route traffic for specific applications, and – through caching – improve network performance. 

No platform or proxy is completely immune to tracking or surveillance, and – while it does provide a comprehensive level of online anonymity – the Tor browser is no exception.

Remember the Tor browser’s “nodes”, which we discussed earlier? The Tor browser’s “exit node” – the last in a chain – where Tor decrypts the traffic, can potentially monitor your activity on that site. (Particularly if the website itself is unencrypted: HTTP rather than HTTPS.)

What’s more, sophisticated attackers could use techniques such as website fingerprinting – which analyses patterns in data traffic and timing – to identify the websites you’re accessing. You’ll also need to ensure you’re using Tor consistently. If, for instance, you download files or content through the Tor browser – but then open them outside of the Tor network – that content could reveal your IP address, and potentially compromise your online anonymity.

Rob Binns


Rob is an experienced writer and editor, with a wide range of experience in many topics, including renewable energy and appliances, home security, and business software. He has written for Eco Experts, Home Business, Expert Market, Payments Journal, and Yahoo! Finance. . 

Rob has a passion for smart home technology, online privacy, as well as the environment and renewables, which leads him to the Independent Advisor where he writes about related topics, including cyber security, VPNs, and solar power.


Amy Reeves


Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.