Personal privacy seems to be highly elusive these days. Every move we make on the web provides targeted marketing companies and other groups with information about our buying habits, search patterns, and other personal information that we might prefer to keep to ourselves.
So is there any way a person can browse the web without someone watching over their digital shoulder all the time?
Yes, there is, but always remember that surfing anonymously doesn't give you a license to do bad things just because no one can see you. There is no 100% effective solution for hiding yourself online. Skilled computer forensics professionals can still likely find out if you've been breaking the law, so please keep things legal.
There are several ways to surf the web anonymously. Here are two of the more popular ones:
1. Use a Proxy Service:
A web proxy service acts as a middle-man inserted between you and the site that you are trying to view.
If you opt to subscribe to a web proxy service, the service provider should provide you with simple instructions for configuring your web browser to direct all traffic through the web proxy service. The web proxy is a server, or group of servers, that forward requests for web pages or other data on your behalf and then relay the pages/data back to you. They act as a "go-between", which effectively masks your identity. The website you are trying to get to will only see the proxy service's proxy server IP address instead of yours. The whole process happens behind the scenes and shouldn't impact the web browsing experience except for possibly adding a little delay as pages are relayed via the proxy.
There is one catch to using a web proxy: While the website you are trying to access can only see the proxy server's IP address, the proxy server can see the entire conversation and likely has a record of it. It could also potentially steal your data since it is privy to all the details. If you decide to use a web proxy, you might not want to just pick any free one you come across as it could be one setup by hackers to harvest sensitive data. Whichever kind of web proxy service you choose, do your homework and find out what their privacy policies and log file retention periods are.
2. Use a Commercial VPN Service:
If you are looking for a more robust solution that protects more than just web browsing, a commercial VPN service is the way to go. VPN services used to only be available to people who worked for large corporations that could afford them. There are now many affordable commercially available VPN service providers for home and small business users.
A VPN provides an encrypted tunnel that helps prevent anyone from eavesdropping on your network traffic. Most VPN providers also mask your true IP address behind their gateway, so anyone trying to see what you IP address is will only see the one that the VPN provider reveals. This IP is typically randomly rotated which further protects your identity.