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While some show off their lives on Instagram, YouTube, or X, others prefer to remain nameless. In search of anonymity, internet users turn to tools that will obfuscate their presence. 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.

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    In short: does a VPN make you anonymous?

    Well, no. But it’s an essential tool for those seeking some degree of anonymity online. A VPN service encrypts your data, hides your internet traffic, bypasses website blocks, and protects you from tracking, ISP snooping, hacking attempts, targeted advertising, and internet censorship.

    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, and remove a lot of digital identifiers from websites or apps you visit. But being anonymous — hiding completely — might only be possible if you’ve never been on the internet at all.

    What is online anonymity, and is it possible?

    Not quite. True online anonymity would include hiding everything you do online from everyone. That is hardly possible even on the technological “here’s how electrical pulses move over the physical internet infrastructure level.” And for everyday browsing, that’s impractical to the extreme.

    Take yourself for example. 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, and your bank account credentials. That’s quite a lot of personal information we provide for just one online purchase.

    And that’s aside from what people can do with your IP address, which is recorded every time you do something online!

    Here are some quick answers to the main questions about anonymity online:

    Why is an "anonymous" VPN needed?
    A VPN is needed to enhance your privacy and security online. An anonymous VPN would be desirable as it would hide you even from the VPN provider.
    Can you be tracked using a VPN?
    A VPN does a lot to make you harder to track, but it’s not impossible. It all depends on who is tracking you and why.
    Can you stay anonymous on mobile?
    You can be a lot more private if you use a mobile VPN and remember to use your best internet privacy practices.
    Is a truly anonymous VPN possible?
    Almost, but absolute anonymity is challenging.
    Do I need privacy measures besides a VPN?
    Yes, for your privacy, use secure browsers, encryption, and more.
    How is privacy different from anonymity?
    Privacy means keeping what you do online secret. Anonymity means keeping your identity, not what you do, hidden.

    Why you need an “anonymous” VPN

    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 for research purposes, maybe marketing, or something shadier, like hacking or surveillance.

    Of course, the amount of data stored about you depends a lot on your internet habits, but one thing is clear — none of us are anonymous online, and our online privacy is always at risk.

    But a VPN can help:

    Without a VPN
    With a VPN
    Your real IP is logged wherever you go
    The VPN server’s IP is logged wherever you go
    Your data isn’t encrypted
    Your data is encrypted
    Your real IP reveals your real location
    The VPN server’s IP reveals the VPN server’s location

    We’ve already established that complete anonymity on the internet is virtually impossible. That being said, you should use a VPN to improve your online privacy.

    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., YouTube).

    Using a VPN also changes your virtual location. When you connect to a server located in another country (say, France), your internet service provider and the site you’re visiting “think” you’re in France.

    This connection to a VPN server creates a good degree of privacy, 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.

    Can you be tracked if you’re using a VPN?

    Many factors come into play with this question, but for most intents and purposes, no, you can’t be tracked if you’re using a VPN. Of course, some caveats may apply, especially if you’ve been compromised by hackers!

    What goes into a good VPN service?

    Not all VPNs are made the same, and a lot depends on which features the VPN provider prioritizes. Here are some things to consider when searching for that “anonymous” VPN:

    VPN encryption

    Surfshark uses the AES-256 encryption algorithm — the top standard in the industry. Even for the most powerful computers, it would take more than a lifetime to decrypt the data.

    Explore this article to find out more about VPN encryption.

    A strict no-logs policy

    To be private means to be private from everyone, including your VPN provider. Surfshark never tracks what you do online, meaning that no connection logs are kept aside from what is needed to keep your VPN tunnel up. 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 clean when the server is off.

    VPN protocols

    A reliable VPN connection wouldn’t be possible without VPN protocols. Such industry-leading protocols like IKEv2, OpenVPN, and Wireguard 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.


    Surfshark offers a feature that allows you to connect to two server locations at the same time. It strengthens your VPN connection, improves security, and hides your location and internet traffic even more reliably.

    Anonymous payment options 

    You may trust your VPN provider, but you may still not want them to know your banking details. That’s why you’d want a VPN that allows alternative ways to pay, like with cryptocurrency. Since the whole premise of cryptocurrency is allowing anonymous transactions, it’s the payment option for those wanting to remain private. And yes, Surfshark accepts crypto payments. 

    Staying anonymous on mobile

    As I’ve explained above, online anonymity doesn’t really exist. And it’s even trickier with phones. ‘Cause you may share your computer with your family or use one at a library. With your phone, however, it’s more likely than not that it’s tied to you.

    To achieve maximum anonymity with a phone, you’d need to buy a cheap phone from a supermarket. Get a pay-as-you-go SIM card and pay for everything in cash. Anonymity would also mean not connecting to your home Wi-Fi on that phone, not unless you go through a VPN. And not just any VPN either — you’d need to make sure it doesn’t track or collect what you do online. This means you’d have to choose a paid VPN instead of a free VPN.

    The thing you need to remember is that the more anonymous you want to be, the less convenient you will find it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the hassle. You may not become 100% anonymous but you can make your information as private as possible. 

    Can you get a truly anonymous VPN?

    No, as a truly anonymous VPN is impossible — or near impossible — to achieve. However, major players in the VPN market, like Surfshark, put in a lot of effort to make you as private as possible:

    • Payment options like paying in crypto help you keep your identity secret from the VPN company. 
    • RAM-only servers lose any data going through them if they’re ever seized. 
    • No-logs policy, especially one proven by independent audits, ensures that the VPN provider keeps the minimum necessary data about your online activities. 

    If anonymity is your goal, be wary of free VPNs

    Free vs. paid VPNs at a glance:

    Free VPNs are barely better than having no VPN at all. Sometimes, even worse. Why? Let’s see:

    1. Shady business models

    A 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.

    1. Vague or non-existent privacy policies

    The fact that over half of the most popular free 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 VPN services don’t care about your privacy and instead are jumping on a skyrocketing VPN trend to earn money.

    1. Ads upon ads upon ads

    Free app developers, in general, tend to turn to ads to make a profit. VPN providers 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 who wants to pay to see ads?

    Free VPNs tend to be almost shocking opposites of premium VPNs. Premium VPNs don’t track or collect your browsing activities; a free VPN might. Premium VPNs offer ad and malware blockers; free VPNs contain ads and sometimes even malware.

    Aside from using a VPN, what else can you do to get some online privacy?

    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.

    Get a better browser

    Tor (The Onion Router) is an anonymous browser that hides your real 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.

    Ditch Google for DuckDuckGo

    DuckDuckGo is a search engine that focuses on users’ privacy. It doesn’t track or profile its users, so everyone sees the same thing instead of showing you personalized search results.

    A VPN goes well with Tor and DuckDuckGo (or even comes with its own search tool — like Surfshark’s private Search tool). 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.

    Remember the 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 your accounts for breaches

    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!

    Bottom line: a reliable VPN service is the first step to online privacy

    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, and censorship laws. With digital privacy worldwide standing under assault, there is no doubt that internet users need a VPN now more than ever.

    Start reclaiming your privacy
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    Can I be anonymous with a VPN?

    No. Although a VPN is an essential cybersecurity tool that will make you more private online, it will never make you 100% anonymous. Nothing will (except maybe faking your death, changing your name, and moving to live alone in the woods). 

    Which VPN is the most private?

    Your best bet is a VPN that won’t collect your data. Although there’s no right answer, there are definitely some wrong answers — avoid free VPNs and any VPNs with sketchy privacy policies. 

    Which VPN is truly anonymous?

    There’s no such thing as a truly anonymous VPN, nor can any VPN make you anonymous online. However, a no-logs VPN with a lot of IP addresses on offer, good encryption standards, DNS leak protection, and headquarters in a country with no data retention laws is as good as anonymous.

    Can a VPN keep you anonymous online?

    No, a VPN can’t keep you anonymous online — nothing can. However, a VPN improves your privacy and security a whole lot. 

    Do VPNs really hide your identity?

    A VPN helps you hide your identity. However, there are many ways in which you can reveal your identity yourself despite VPN protection. That’s why you have to follow some basic guidelines, like not posting your full name and address unnecessarily.

    How do I pay for a VPN anonymously?

    Most major VPN platforms accept payments in cryptocurrency. Combine this payment method with an alternative online ID used to fill out the registration form and you’re going to have paid anonymously.

    Are VPNs traceable?

    There are ways to identify that a VPN is in use. For websites and services, it relies on checking whether the connections are coming from the IP address of a known VPN server (it’s not very sophisticated). Meanwhile, internet service providers can detect that a VPN is in use by looking at the patterns in your internet traffic.