Basics of being anonymous online with a new identity

by | Jan 28, 2021 | Anonymous Living, Anonymous Travel, New Identity | 2 comments

There are endless reasons to be anonymous online with a new identity.

The most obvious is your freedom, with a new identity you are free to move.

It is rarely in your interest that your government, Internet providers, administrators/supporters, or company know what you are doing online. What illness are you googling about? What porn do you watch? What political party do you favor? Do you search for pirated software? The list is endless, and everyone is affected. There are more reasons to be anonymous. If you were unknown, you could register multiple accounts with a new identity on social networks (Facebook, YouTube, myspace, Gmail, your favorite Internet forum). Many people require this once in a while; most get caught doing it because they lack knowledge.

The Internet looks simple from the user’s point of view, but in reality, the protocols used to make this possible are very complex. The Internet was never designed to be an anonymous platform, and as it grew, the different governments, of course, had no interest in speaking anonymously. Every connection on the Internet has one thing in common: the I.P. Address. The data sent and received always contains a destination and a source I.P. Address, no matter what you did (email, surfing, file sharing, listening to a music stream, or watching a video). This I.P. Address can be used to identify you (through your provider’s help, break into your computer, or deny you access or track your entry unless you use a new identity.

When surfing (using a browser like Firefox, I.E., or Opera to access HTTP pages), more information is transmitted than you would ever guess! Your browser sends information about itself, your operating system, your language, and much more information. This information also tells a lot about your new identity and can give you customized text against you. The main factor is your I.P. Address; it needs to be obfuscated. Next, your cookies need to be removed, and finally, your user agent should be changed.

Changing the I.P. requires a tool/service called proxy. The cookies can be removed through your browser settings, and the user agent is also part of your browser configuration.A proxy server can be configured in your browser network-connection settings. When using an online proxy, your browser will send all data requests to the proxy; the proxy will route it to the destination and send you back the data. This is “transparent” to you as a user; the destination will only see the proxy I.P. Address.

Most of us don’t overthink being anonymous n our everyday lives and even online. That’s because over the years, especially in the U.S., people have been conditioned to provide some personal information to companies where we do business. Mail comes to our house, with our name and address on it. Our phone numbers are “listed,” and our names are next to them. And if we want to buy anything online, which many people do, we have to provide our name, address, and payment information, like an id card.

Most of us are trusting souls. But that’s where the trouble lies and where more and more of us are taking steps to be more invisible online. The word we used to describe that is anonymous living. That’s not necessarily a simple word, so here’s a definition refresher. When you say communication is anonymous, the person who sent it is unknown by name. If you want to remain anonymous in some situation, you’re choosing not to have your name attached to your message or action, whatever that is.

Internet anonymity is a little different. Why? Because we want to keep more than our name from being known: We don’t want our personal, financial, and computer “identity” (from our I.P. address to our city and state) known as well. And we don’t want any of it hijacked by hackers and crooks.

We can control only so much.

We do have some control when it comes to limiting our risk our exposure online. After all, we can choose how much to tell anyone about ourselves, from people we send emails to businesses we do transactions with. But after that, we lose a lot of control. Fact is, there are entities out there—businesses, advertisers, hackers, thieves, police, or government institutions—that will collect data (legally or not) to watch what we’re doing.

Privacy Rights

For a growing number of people, Internet anonymity means we should be able to conduct all or some activity on the Internet without anyone tracing that activity back to our individual computers and, ultimately, to us personally, especially when a person has NOT given permission for anyone to do that.

Avoid Problems Crime

Still, for most of us, that means we want to be treated decently and not have our private information (or private/personal Internet activities) abused. We don’t want to be victims of identity theft or other Internet scams. We might not like it (or even know) that businesses are tracking our Zip codes or that online advertisers have captured our I.P. address and sent out custom ads, but we won’t get up in arms about it. For others (some decent folks, some not, some paranoid or activists), there’s the desire to have NO traces of any kind, by anyone, on any of their Internet activity.

Anonymity Advocates

Supporters of the total for Internet anonymity argue that it is the most crucial aspect of free speech on the Internet. Anonymity allows Internet users to express themselves freely without being discovered, tracked, ridiculed, or harassed. It is essential for online discussions and forums, especially forums involving personal questions or topics, such as sensitive medical issues.

Advocates might also say that Internet anonymity is essential when sharing or giving information that really should remain anonymous, such as reporting illegal activities through online tips. Would you want someone (reporters, crooks, etc.) to trace your police tips back to you? On the other hand, it’s no secret (or you just found out by reading this) that there are plenty of people who don’t want to be tracked because they’re into very illegal activities. They might support anonymity for some right reasons, but they also don’t want the authorities to shut down or interrupt their illicit activities.

What Should You Do?

If you went shopping at a mall, you wouldn’t give your name, address, and phone number to any store that asked for it. And you wouldn’t want someone following you around the mall, watching what you buy, and seeing how much money you have on you.

To protect your privacy, limit how much personal information you post on the Internet. Remember, if you’re on Facebook or LinkedIn, you’ve already given away a lot of privacy. How far you go to protect your privacy depends on how you feel about anonymity. With a bit of research, you can find out how you can reduce how much advertisers, marketers’ and others can find out about you.

In today’s hyper-connected world, it is becoming harder and harder for anyone to maintain their privacy. Is it time we just gave up on the idea altogether? Imagine walking into a roomful of strangers. Perhaps you’ve traveled to a new city. You don’t know anyone, and no one knows you. You’re free to do anything or go anywhere or talk to anyone. How do you feel?

Perhaps you feel free of the judgment and scrutiny from acquaintances or associates. Maybe you feel energized that you can use this opportunity to experience life on your terms, at your speed. But whatever your feelings would be, you would at least safely assume that you can enter this isolated situation without being monitored or tracked by a far-flung company or individual – right?

Wrong. What you’re experiencing as you walk into that room is anonymity: a sociocultural phenomenon that’s afforded privacy and freedom. But in the year 2017, it’s pretty much all but dead. It’s emerging as one of the significant challenges of our age: how should we go about both ensuring national security and enhancing our lives through technology while also maintaining a fundamental right to privacy that feels like it has existed since the beginning of human history?”

The Internet made us stop caring.

Anonymity, which is Greek for “no name,” is a uniquely human psychological experience: it’s the idea that we all have identities to present to the world, but under certain circumstances, can switch the identity off and operate in total secrecy.

“We need a public self to navigate the social world of family, friends, peers, and co-workers,” says John Suler, professor of psychology at Rider University in New Jersey and author of The Psychology of Cyberspace. “But we also need a private self – an internal space where we can reflect on our thoughts and feelings apart from outside influence, where we can be with our psyche. Both form our identities. Without one or the other, our wellbeing can easily become disrupted.”

Being anonymous allows us to try new things or express ideas without being judged. In 2013, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania published a study in which they conducted in-depth interviews with dozens of internet users on four continents.

One interviewee, for instance, created an anonymous online community for English learners to practice their language skills. Anonymity helped them better manage certain spheres of their lives. One participant said that he frequented message boards to help people solve technical problems but sought to avoid unwanted commitments through the impersonal nature of the Internet. Plus, being anonymous in an environment like the Internet can help safeguard personal safety.

“Our results show that people from all walks of life had a reason, at one time or another, to seek anonymity,” the researchers wrote of the 44 interviewees. But according to a 2013 study from the Pew Research Center, while most internet users would like to remain anonymous, most don’t think it’s entirely possible. The study found that 59% of American internet users believe it is impossible to hide their identity online wholly.

And while some people are taking basic steps to preserve anonymity, like deleting their browsing history, many users who say they value anonymity aren’t walking the walk. Earlier this year, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Communication explored something called the “privacy paradox”: the idea that, while people value privacy, they do little in practice to preserve it. Think about it: when was the last time you read one of those many lengthy privacy policy updates before clicking “I agree”? Our attitude toward privacy has become increasingly blasé.

One could even argue it’s even detrimental not to divulge at least some info. Career coaches worldwide trumpet the professional importance of having a fleshed-out public LinkedIn photo complete with full name, headshot, entire work history, and more. Perhaps this is more of a cultural thawing toward previously uptight attitudes. I remember getting on the Internet for the first time. It was the 1990s and on my father’s work computer. In those days, internet service providers went to great, paranoid lengths to discourage users from divulging even essential tidbits in their public profiles, like first name, city, and even gender.

Today? Personal info flies freely and wildly across the web, often of our volition: Instagrammed selfies of ourselves and loved ones, complete with geotagged locations. Social media users engage in political spats and horrible insults, even though the target of their harassment could click on their real names and real photos and see who they are.

People tend to think of cyberspace as some imaginary space without true boundaries, an area not taken too seriously – John Suler.

“People tend to think of cyberspace as some kind of imaginary space without true boundaries, a space not to be taken too seriously – not subject to the same rules and standards as the ‘real’ world,” says Suler. In just the span of a few short years, people’s comfort level with the Internet has risen to the point where information-sharing can be careless or reckless. Call it privacy fatigue, but our increased interdependence on our smart devices and social media has given some of us an essentially lazy attitude toward staying anonymous. But what if you’re one of those people who eschew Facebook, has no social media presence, and goes to great lengths to leave a fleeting digital footprint? Sorry – your anonymity is at risk too.

Going off the grid is no fix.

While skipping a Facebook profile is an excellent way to disconnect, there are still ways people can sleuth out your identity.

Paul Ohm, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, says there’s “intentional anonymity” and “inferential anonymity”: the former being what we choose to keep close to the vest, and the latter referring to the data that a Google-savvy sleuth can “infer” from you online – that is, dig up loads of personal information about you using a single fact as a starting point.

“It’s become increasingly clear that it’s a losing game,” Ohm says on achieving total anonymity in 2017. “As long as someone knows something about you, they can probably find other things about you and do it successfully – more than they have in the past.”If you’re a social media party pooper, that might mean old flames or long-lost classmates can’t track you down. But that doesn’t mean you’re anonymous from large entities, like corporations or the government.

“It’s much harder to be anonymous than it was 20 years ago, at least from the biggest companies and the government,” says Peter Swire, professor of law and ethics at Georgia Institute of Technology and who served on U.S. President Barack Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology. Advertisers track your internet habits across your devices – phone, tablet, laptop – to know where you habitually go, shop, and what kind of websites you visit. There has been growing controversy about what internet companies should be allowed to sell to third parties.

Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a law that repealed requirements for internet service providers to get permission from customers before gathering and sharing their data, like your web history and what apps you use. Swire says we’re living in a “golden age of surveillance“: If you’re a person of interest in an investigation, looking up details like financial records, medical records, web history, or call history is a breeze. And that hints at a more significant, serious privacy concern in the age of cybersecurity breaches and digital services that keep your bank information and home addresses on record. It’s hard to go undetected these days.

What’s more? Ohm says we’re approaching the “next great frontier in advertising”: your location.

Sure, websites can tweak adverts to zero in on your interests based on the web searches you’ve made on the same device or sites visited. But companies and advertisers are chasing technology and business deals that pinpoint your exact whereabouts in real-time for ‘personalized’ advertising. For example, an advert could flash on your mobile phone’s screen offering a coupon for a store you’re half a mile away from.

Unless you’re willing to live without the Internet or any intelligent device, it’s practically impossible to go completely off the grid.”This is a bad time to be a spy,” Swire says. In other words, even for people whose job it is to be anonymous, it’s hard to be anonymous. Still, there are plenty of instances where anonymity is problematic, even dangerous. Is its demise a blessing for society?

Is the death of anonymity good?

Swire says that anonymity is a relatively new construct and that the rise of cities gave rise to it. So, we’ve spent far more time living without it than living with it.

“Anonymity didn’t exist in small towns in the days of yore,” Swire says, where everybody knew everybody’s business. “To some extent, urban living created anonymity. The difference today is that even in a big city, each of us leaves breadcrumbs that an investigator can follow.”Anonymity also has a dark side. In that same Carnegie Mellon study, 53% of interviewees admitted to malicious activities, like hacking or harassing other internet users, or engaging in “socially undesirable activities,” like visiting sites that depicted violence or pornography or downloading files illegally.

There may be signs that, while most people certainly want to keep sensitive information like bank accounts and medical records safe, others may not care about sacrificing true anonymity for a perceived greater good. In a 2015 Pew study, Americans who were surveyed felt torn between maintaining privacy rights and ensuring national security: 56% surveyed said that they were more concerned that the government’s anti-terrorism policies hadn’t gone far enough to protect citizens, even if that meant sacrificing some civil liberties, like online privacy.

Meanwhile, YouGov, an internet market research firm, found in a survey last year that nearly half of Britons contacted said that “more should be done to help the security forces combat terrorism, even if this means the privacy of ordinary people. Suffers.”In any case, efforts to completely anonymize our activities are more or less futile. With the rise of the Internet of things, more and more of the devices we use every day will require our personal information to function, and the more they’ll be integrated into our lives.”There is this huge disconnect,” Ohm says. “Do we believe what people say when an interviewer asks them [about privacy], or do we believe their purchasing habits?”

Waning anonymity sounds inevitable. Still, if you want to protect your privacy as best you can, the experts offer a few tips.

Best practices you can use

Earlier this year, Pew found that most Americans don’t trust big institutions like the government or social media sites to protect their personal information – and yet, ironically, most Americans don’t follow best practices to protect their identities online.

What are some of those best practices? Keep your passwords under lock and key, make a different one for each service, and make them hard to guess. But if you’re more concerned about your reputation than hackers, a little common sense goes a long way.

“Follow the front-page test,” Swire suggests. “Don’t put comments down in texts or emails that would bother you if they were on the front page of the newspaper. I give that advice to intelligence agencies, and I give that advice to ordinary people.” Because while some people may not care about third parties or governments tracking their purchasing habits, people will care more about being anonymous when it involves people they interact with daily.”You might not care if a busy bureaucrat or internet company can access those gossipy emails, but you’d care if your boss sees them instead,” Swire says. Using encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp makes your messages more private and difficult to trace.

But suppose we’re going to reassign real cultural value to anonymity and secure it as a fundamental right people are entitled to. In that case, it’s going to take a lot more than just individual action and a lot more than encryption apps you can load up your phone with. It’s going to take sweeping societal change. It will bring governments, advertisers, and tech corporations worldwide to agree on a baseline system of ethics. It’s not just about customers opting out of digital services – it’s about the choice to temporarily opt out of their public-facing identities, as well.

“All of us need to keep some private space where our deepest dreams and darkest fantasies are hidden away from other people – it gives us room to develop as humans, to try out different thoughts and different sides of ourselves,” says Swire. “That doesn’t change because of the internet.”

When it comes to protecting your new identity, nobody does it better than Amicus International Consulting, contact us today for more information on how we can help you.