While some broadcast their lives on Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter, others prefer to remain nameless. But it’s hard to do so when so much of our lives continue moving to virtual space to increase convenience. It’s undoubtedly more convenient, but it’s also quite concerning to a lot of people.
In a search for anonymity, internet users turn to tools promising just that. One of those is a VPN. But is complete anonymity on the internet even possible? What does it take to achieve it, and how do VPNs help? Let’s get into it.
Why it’s impossible to be 100% anonymous online
Do you have an email with your name? I’d guess yes – most of us do. Have you purchased books, clothes, electronics, or anything else online? Again, probably yes – it’s easy, quick, and time-saving. But it’s tied to your name, your address, your bank account credentials. That’s quite a lot of personal information we provide for just one online purchase.
All the data that you put out on the internet is stored somewhere. It’s more likely than not that your data has been collected and used without your knowledge – perhaps it’s research purposes, maybe marketing, or something shadier, like hacking or surveillance.
Of course, the amount of data stored in some remote server about you depends a lot on your internet habits, but one thing is clear – none of us are anonymous online.
If VPNs don’t make me anonymous, why do I need one?
We’ve already established that complete anonymity on the internet is virtually impossible. But don’t delete your VPN. Despite anonymity being unrealistic, VPNs help you come closer to it.
A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel from your device (e.g., a computer or a phone) to the destination you’re trying to reach (e.g., the YouTube website). As you connect to a server located in another country (say, France), your internet service provider, and the site you’re visiting “thinks” you’re in France.
This connection to a VPN server creates a good degree of anonymity, but I would be lying if I said you become 100% anonymous.
With a VPN, you protect your data. Some incredibly important components play a part in ensuring no information goes past the encrypted VPN tunnel.
- VPN encryption. Surfshark uses the AES-256 encryption algorithm, which is a top encryption standard in the industry. Even for the most powerful computers, it would take more than a lifetime to decrypt it.
No-logs VPN. To be private is to be private from everyone, including your VPN provider. Surfshark keeps no connection or usage logs. What you do online is only your business.
- RAM-only servers. Not that many VPN providers rely on 100% RAM servers. Surfshark is one of the few that do. Essentially, running all servers on RAM means that the technical configuration information that would be stored on the hard drive is automatically wiped off when a server is off.
- VPN protocols. Secure internet connection wouldn’t be possible without VPN protocols. Such industry-leading protocols like IKEv2 and OpenVPN ensure your successful route to a more anonymous browsing experience.
- Obfuscated VPN servers. With obfuscation, your VPN traffic looks like regular internet traffic to your internet service provider and the websites you visit. It benefits you by bypassing VPN blockers and shielding you from excessive ISP snooping.
- MultiHop. Surfshark offers a feature that allows you to connect to two server locations at the same time. It strengthens VPN connection, improves security, and hides your location and internet traffic even more reliably.
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How privacy is different from anonymity
When it comes to VPNs, terms like anonymity, privacy, and security seem to come hand in hand. However, being private is not the same as being anonymous.
If I say someone’s a private person, I’m still aware of their existence. I just don’t know anything about them. However, when someone’s anonymous, even their existence is a secret.
So, being private online is an achievable goal because you can hide your internet activity, protect your personal data, information, and remove a lot of digital identifiers from websites or apps you visit. But hiding yourself completely might only be possible if you’re not on the internet at all.
How to set up a VPN anonymously?
Only three steps and your VPN will be up and running.
1. Download and install your VPN client. One account protects all your devices.
2. Create an account, log in, and click Connect.
3. You are protected. Browse with a peace of mind!
If anonymity is your goal, be wary of free VPNs
Free VPNs are barely better than having no VPN at all. Sometimes, even worse. Why do I say so?
- They’re generating profit in shady ways. VPN infrastructure requires a lot of resources to stay afloat. Not to mention paying for hosting services and advertising campaigns. They might not be charging you, but they’re most likely still making a profit off you. How? Usually, by storing and selling your data. And that isn’t exactly what you expect from a tool promising you anonymity, privacy, and security.
- Vague or non-existent privacy policies. The fact that over half of the most popular free VPN services on app stores have Chinese ownership and unclear privacy policies has been public for a while now. It’s crucial to keep in mind that many of these free VPN apps don’t care about your privacy and instead are jumping on a skyrocketing VPN trend to earn money.
- Ads upon ads upon ads. Free apps, in general, tend to turn to ads to make a profit. VPNs are no exception. Besides being irritating and often suspiciously too personal, ads also make the loading process slower and use up a considerable amount of your mobile data – which you pay for! And I don’t think anyone wants to pay to see ads.
Besides VPNs, what can you do to be more private?
While 100% anonymity online is probably only obtainable if you’re not on the internet at all, tools like a VPN help you protect your data. But a VPN isn’t the only service that brings you closer to anonymity.
Chrome, Safari? How about Tor?
Tor (The Onion Router) is an anonymous browser that hides your IP address, online data, and browsing history by routing your traffic through random Tor servers. This random routing ensures a high level of anonymity. However, Tor does have drawbacks; for example, it’s slow, especially for today’s standards.
Google? Try DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that focuses on users’ privacy. It doesn’t track or profile its users, so instead of showing you personalized search results, everyone sees the same thing.
A VPN goes well with Tor and DuckDuckGo. If you decide to use either of those, make sure to also route your internet traffic through VPN servers for an even higher degree of privacy and security.
Don’t shun privacy settings on your devices.
By tinkering with your device’s privacy settings, you can control what apps have permission to your location, contacts, messages, camera, photos, or even health information. When an app asks to access your camera, carefully assess why they need it, and only then make a decision.
Check if your accounts have been breached.
You probably have a lot of accounts across the internet. I know I do. Not to alarm you, but there’s a big chance that at least one of your accounts has been compromised. Check your email address (or addresses if you have multiple) on Have I Been Pwned or our email security tool Surfshark Alert. If you find compromised accounts, change passwords – and make sure they’re strong!
What conclusions can I draw?
Realistically speaking, an anonymous VPN does not exist. However, VPNs offer invaluable privacy and security from online surveillance, tracking, hacking attempts, data collection, targeted advertising, ISP monitoring, censorship laws.
With digital privacy around the world standing on shaky grounds, there is no doubt that internet users need a VPN now more than ever.
Get closer to anonymity online with Surfshark VPN
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