What is anonymity?
In the context of Web privacy, anonymity means that when you visit a website it can’t distinguish you from any other visitor, or even know whether you’ve visited previously. There’s an important difference between anonymity and pseudonymity, which is a related (and far more common) concept. Pseudonymity means that when you visit a website the site can tell whether you’ve been to the site before, and may even remember what you did in previous visits, but otherwise doesn’t know anything about your real-world identity.
How can I stay anonymous online?
True anonymity on the Web is difficult to achieve. Simply by going to a website, you’re exposing some information that can be used to track you, like your IP address and characteristics of your browser (which can be used to fingerprint you). However, there are several ways to get close to true anonymity.
Using a browser like Brave, which offers strong privacy protections by default, can block or inhibit many of the techniques that websites use to track visitors, like third-party cookies and fingerprinting.
You can hide your real IP address from websites by using a virtual private network (VPN). These are common in workplace settings, but there are now many personal VPN services available as well. Some VPNs are better than others (some can even add more risk than they remove, so research before downloading / buying anything), but in general they can help. Brave has a VPN built directly into the browser.
One other best practice is to avoid voluntarily sharing personal info online (e.g. through social media platforms or chat applications).
Are there risks, limitations, or downsides to online anonymity?
There are some potential downsides to anonymity for the Internet as a whole. For example, on certain social sites anonymous users can contribute to harassment. Anonymity may also enable hackers interested in conducting illegal activity (note that many hackers also have benign or altruistic purposes).
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