Not everyone wants their personal details to be public knowledge, but staying totally anonymous online is harder than you think.
Fortunately, unless you’re engaged in international espionage and worried about being tracked down by CSI-style technology, there are some simple steps you can take to keep your online activity as private as possible. These tips won’t remove every trace of your web activities, but they’re more than enough for most people.
Delete your browser’s saved files
Your web browser retains certain information about your online activity for convenience. The ‘cache’ means you don’t need to keep downloading parts of web pages that never change, ‘cookies’ mean you don’t need to log into web sites each time you visit and the ‘web history’ means you only need type part of a web address to have your browser auto-complete it. To learn more about cached data, click here.
These can all reveal your past web use, though, as well as some personal information, but wiping your tracks is as simple as flushing the data from your browser.
For our full guide on how to delete browsing history from Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari click here.
Use private browsing
It’s not very convenient to delete your browsing history and files each time you visit a web site you’d rather you kept to yourself, but there is an easier option. All web browsers have a ‘private’ mode that, once enabled, lets you browse the web normally, but that doesn’t save any cookies, files or other temporary data afterwards.
In Internet Explorer, it’s called InPrivate mode and it’s enabled by clicking to cog menu at the top-right of the window, then choosing Safety - InPrivate Browsing. You can switch between normal and private browser windows at any time. Other web browsers have the same feature.
In Chrome tap the menu icon at the top-right (three horizontal lines) and click New incognito window. In Firefox you can tap the same icon and select New Private Window.
Use tracking protection
Almost all web pages track their visitors’ activity for a host of harmless purposes and, if they include links to social media services like Facebook, those services may also track them too.
Internet Explorer has tracking protection built-in and it’s activated by clicking to cog menu at the top-right of the window, then choose Safety and Turn on tracking protection.
On Google Chrome, open the settings menu then click Settings. Search 'Do not track' at the top and tick the box.
With other web browsers you can get a dedicated extension to block web tracking such as Ghostery.
Review Facebook privacy settings
Facebook has the infuriating habit of changing its account privacy settings without warning and making accounts less private as a result. That makes it all the more important to review your account privacy settings on a regular basis — and understand what the different options do.
Facebook does at least take you through the steps needed to review your privacy settings. Click the question mark icon at the top-right when you’re logged in and choose Privacy check-up and follow the steps.
Each step is interactive and you can make changes as you go.
Search the web privately
For those who would rather not share what they search for on Google, there are alternatives that claim to keep your web searches completely private such as DuckDuckGo. Read more about the DuckDuckGo search engine here and how to use it.
Protect your identity
With all this talk of staying anonymous online, one thing we haven’t mentioned is protecting your identity when you do need to use it. That means being alert to phishing attempts – emails that appear to be from banks or other services but which are actually aimed at stealing your personal data - and making sure you log out of online accounts when you’re using a computer that isn’t your own (using private browsing is also a good idea here).