A hand holding a mask with two browser screens and a crossed-out eye behind it.

In the past, anonymous use of the internet was chiefly sought by whistleblowers and activists wishing to hide their identities. However, as the scope of activity tracking and data collection increases, everyone can benefit from browsing the web anonymously. Follow along to learn how you can do just that.

Table of contents

    What does anonymous browsing mean?

    In theory, anonymous browsing means accessing and surfing the internet without a trace. However, that’s pretty much impossible to achieve. You’ll always leave some breadcrumb trail when you browse the web. But you can cover your tracks and hide from most threats, which makes your online experience much more secure.

    How to browse the internet anonymously

    You’ll need the help of some tools and services to browse the web anonymously. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must, as it hides your IP and encrypts all your traffic. The Tor Browser and private search engines can also help you keep your online activity anonymous.

    Here are some of the best ways to protect your privacy and personal information online:

    1. Use a VPN

    A VPN should be your primary tool for protecting your identity and data on the internet. Unlike other methods you’ll find below, a VPN protects the entirety of your traffic, not just your browser or search engine. 

     A VPN protects various types of online data or traffic, including:

    • Torrenting;
    • Streaming;
    • Connection logs;
    • Traffic logs;
    • Your IP address;
    • Location data.

    Premium VPN services should always use secure encryption to protect your data. This is rarely the case with free providers who can’t afford modern security solutions. So, if you want top-tier security for your anonymity, a paid VPN is the only good option on the table.

    1. Use the Tor Browser

    An open laptop with the Tor logo on the screen; a cursor hovering next to the laptop.

    The Tor Browser is used by the privacy-conscious crowd worldwide. It routes your traffic through a network of volunteers, where it is encrypted before being sent to the internet. Tor is also the primary browser for accessing the dark web, making it a must-have for those wanting to stay anonymous on .onion websites. 

    At the same time, the Tor browser isn’t a great choice for streaming and even general daily use because it’s much slower than your usual browser. It has to route your traffic through 3 different servers, making the connection painfully slow at times.

    1. Use Onion over VPN

    Combining Tor and a VPN is a great option when you’re working with extra sensitive issues and need every bit of protection you can get. This process is also known as using Onion over VPN, and here’s how you can set it up yourself:

    1. Download Surfshark.
    2. Sign up for an account.
    3. Download the Tor browser.
    4. Activate your VPN and connect to any desired location.
    5. Double-click the Tor browser (go to Settings and select “Safest” under security level).
    6. Start browsing.

    It’s worth noting that using Tor and a VPN together makes your connection a lot slower. That’s because your data needs to be sent through both services rather than just one of them. So use it only when you really need it and choose a lighter solution for your everyday browsing.

    1. Log out of your Google account while browsing

    Google homepage with a magnifying glass enlarging the profile button in the top right corner.

    Whenever you use Google, you are encouraged to create an account. Why? Because Google likes snooping on you as much as the next guy. Google even knows your location. So, logging out while using Google prevents some data collection.

    Here are some of the data Google will track with your account:

    • Your city, state, and neighborhood;
    • Your browsing habits when using their easy-to-access login features;
    • Search history across multiple Google-friendly platforms;
    • How you interact with different websites and other online features.

    Google typically uses this information to show you targeted advertisements. So, if you want to improve your online privacy, avoid using your Google account whenever possible. Just be aware that it comes at the cost of convenience — no more logging in with your Google account on other platforms.

    1. Use private search engines

    A hand holding a magnifying glass over a closed eye, with a floating text box nearby that says WWW.

    The most popular search engines, like Google and Bing, closely track your search history. Thankfully, there are alternatives — you can use private search engines that protect users from data-monitoring efforts.

    That said, the search results you get won’t be tailored to your habits and preferences, as they are with Google. So, you’ll have to spend more time searching sometimes. However, the ability to protect your search history is well worth it.

    1. Use private browsers

    Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome are not built with your security as the first priority. The good news is that you can use different privacy browsers as an alternative for safe searching.

    Privacy browsers are built to reject tracking cookies and delete your browsing history after use. These browsers prevent websites from tracking your personal info, allowing you a bit more security.

    Good privacy browsers block malware, are open source, and block fingerprinting. These include (but are not limited to):

    To find out more, you can check out our detailed guide on privacy browsers.

    It’s worth noting that some of these browsers aren’t 100% secure, and many of them require you to adjust the settings to be more private. Regardless, they are still much better than Edge or standard Google Chrome when it comes to privacy matters.

    1. Use Alternative ID

    Alternative ID is a Surfshark feature that allows you to generate a new online identity — complete with a name, birth date, and email. Each time you want to create an account or subscribe to a newsletter, you’re required to enter your personal details, and this feature is a game changer.

    Simply enter the details generated by Alternative ID and forget about freely giving out your actual information online. The best thing about it is that the feature is included in the Surfshark base plan, so you won’t have to pay a penny extra if you already have Surfshark.

    Get Alternative ID
    At no extra cost with all Surfshark plans
    1. Keep your software updated

    Outdated software may not be protected against new threats. And these vulnerabilities can be exploited by hackers to steal your information. This information can then be used to identify you and end your dreams of online anonymity. So make sure that you update your software regularly if you want to avoid leaking your data into the wrong hands.

    1. Optimize your settings

    You can adjust the settings on your device and browser to limit the amount of data you share. For example, you can choose to decline all cookies and notifications, both of which can be used to track your activity. Also, make sure to go through your app permissions and only allow the things that you absolutely need.

    1. Don’t share anything on social media

    All the privacy and security tools in the world can’t protect you from voluntarily sharing your data online. This issue is most prevalent on social media platforms such as Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and many more.

    You can’t share what you do every day and expect to remain anonymous online. In fact, not using social media at all would be the best choice. But if you absolutely must — don’t use any accounts in your own name, don’t react to any posts, don’t add your friends or family to any groups of friend lists, and avoid sharing any information that could be linked to you.

    How can I get tracked online?

    Understanding the different methods used to track user information online is crucial. It can help you avoid tracking or at least minimize the data that third parties can get out of you. Let’s take a look at the most common tracking methods and what you can do to overcome them.

    IP address tracking

    Companies, governments, hackers, and even your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can track your IP address to determine what sites you visit. VPN or Tor are the best tools to hide your IP address. Just remember that Tor only encrypts your browsing, while a VPN encrypts all data, including apps.

    Account tracking

    Two things happen when you create online accounts. First, you usually provide some personal information, such as your name, email, or even credit card number. Second, you make your activity easier to track because your actions are linked to your account. 

    If you want to remain anonymous online, you should avoid creating or using any accounts whenever possible.

    Cross-site tracking

    Cross-site tracking is when companies track your browsing activity between websites. Doing so is particularly easy if you use your Google or social media accounts to log in on different web pages and platforms. Protect yourself by using a VPN to hide your traffic and avoid using any accounts that can be linked to you.

    Pixel tracking

    A tracking pixel is a 1×1 graphic that is downloaded when you load certain websites. It works similarly to cookies since downloading a tracking pixel allows the offending company to track your activity. Disable automatic image downloads on your browser to prevent this issue.


    These are not delicious crumbly desserts but text files stored by the sites you visit. They come in two types — first-party cookies that keep basic details and don’t move between sites and third-party cookies that are used mainly for targeted advertising. To avoid cookie tracking, set your browser up to delete your cookies as you leave websites.

    Device fingerprinting

    Each device has a fingerprint that can be used to track certain information. Your device’s fingerprint may give out data such as your IP address, your time zone, the plugins you’re using, and even physical information on your device, such as screen size and operating system. 

    A VPN routes your traffic through a VPN server, which makes your actual device very difficult to identify.

    Social media widgets

    Social media invites you to interact with other users — react to and share their posts, write comments, etc. Any interaction on social media can be linked to your account. So, if you want to stay anonymous, make sure to limit your activity on any social media platforms.

    Is private browsing (Incognito mode) the same as anonymous browsing?

    Two hands holding a fedora and black glasses with a question mark floating nearby.

    Despite being generally useful, private browsing, or Incognito mode, does not make you anonymous online. It simply tells your browser to delete your history and cookies after you close it. 

    Unlike VPN or Tor, private browsing doesn’t encrypt your data and does little to hide your identity. Sure, it’s nice that you don’t have to manually clear your history and cookies. But you still need to take extra security measures if you want to remain anonymous online.

    Is being completely anonymous possible?

    Being completely anonymous online requires a lot of effort. You need to use a VPN, private browsers, and private search engines, avoid creating or using any accounts, disable cookies, and adjust all settings to be anonymity-oriented.

    That said, even just using a VPN and not providing any personal information online can take you a long way. It’s up to you to decide how much convenience of surfing the web you’re willing to sacrifice in the name of anonymity.

    Protect yourself online
    Choose a VPN with modern security features


    Can I be anonymous with a free VPN?

    No, you can’t be anonymous with a free VPN. Millions of user records are being leaked by free VPNs every year, not to mention that some free VPNs may even sell user data. A free VPN might change your IP, but if you want privacy and protection — a premium VPN is the only way to go.

    What are the best anonymous browsers? 

    Tor is the most popular and arguably the best private browser out there. However, there are reasons you might not want to use Tor — for example, loss of connection speed. In that case, do not fear. We ranked the most popular types of browsers for you. 

    Is the Tor browser safe?

    Yes, Tor is one of the most secure web browsers. However, using Tor doesn’t mean that your data and activity are always protected. If you want maximum protection for your privacy, combine Tor with a VPN. Doing so will protect all your traffic and resolve any security flaws that Tor may have.

    Are private search engines really safe?

    Private search engines don’t store your search history and may help limit activity tracking from other websites. This makes them much safer than regular search engines, although the actual security of private engines can differ depending on which one you use.