Although many users believe that their Web surfing activities are anonymous, a great deal of identifying information is transmitted to and from websites that you browse. A history of the sites you've visited is stored on your computer even after you close your browser, and most websites keep logs of visitors' IP addresses and other statistical data. For those who wish to surf the Web anonymously, most of the major browsers offer secure browsing modes to give users more anonymity as they travel the Web.
- Internet Explorer
- Run Internet Explorer and open the "Tools" menu. Click the "InPrivate Browsing" option to open a new window that invokes this secure browsing mode. Alternately, press "Ctrl-Shift-P" on your keyboard to launch an InPrivate browsing window, or right-click a pinned Internet Explorer icon on the taskbar and select the "InPrivate Browsing" option from the context menu.
- Browse as you normally would. If you visit websites where you have accounts, you will need to log in manually because InPrivate browsing mode does not load any cached information or cookies from previous browsing sessions. If you return to one of these websites later in a regular browsing session, your login information will be stored in the usual manner.
- Close the InPrivate browsing window when you are finished. Make sure that you don't have any content you want to save in other tabs, as all information will be lost when your close the window.
- Launch Firefox. Click the "Firefox" button in the upper left corner of the window and select the "Private Browsing" option. Alternately, press "Ctrl-Shift-P" to start a private browsing session.
- Click the "Start Private Browsing" button to begin your private browsing session when prompted. Any tabs that you currently have open will be saved and then closed, allowing you to recover your current browsing session once you have finished browsing privately. The "Firefox" button will turn purple to indicate that you are browsing privately.
- Browse as you normally would, keeping in mind that no user data or preferences will be loaded from previous browsing sessions. Click the "Firefox" button and select the "Stop Private Browsing" option to return to standard browsing mode and reload your previously saved session. Alternately, press "Ctrl-Shift-P" again to terminate private browsing.
- Launch Chrome and click the "Wrench" icon to access the options menu. Click the "New Incognito Window" option to start browsing in Chrome's Incognito Mode. A new window will open with an Incognito Mode icon that looks like a man in a trench coat and fedora. Alternately, you can launch an Incognito Mode window by pressing "Ctrl-Shift-N" on your keyboard while in Chrome.
- Browse as you normally would. Note that user data and preferences from previous browsing sessions won't be loaded while you are browsing in Incognito Mode.
- Close the Incognito Mode window to end your private browsing session. Any cookies or other data produced by the browsing session will be deleted when the window is closed.
Tips and Warnings
- There are other ways to browse anonymously, such as the TOR browser that was explicitly designed to mask IP addresses and the Anomymizer.com website that routes browser traffic through its own servers to hide your IP information.
- Plugins can add encryption features to some popular Web browsers. Firefox users can use the FoxTOR or Ultrasurf plugins to surf the Web anonymously; the latter is also available for Internet Explorer users. Chrome users can install the TOR Button plugin, which adds a toggle button to the browser that can be used to turn anonymous browsing on and off.
- To protect your personal information, you can manually delete cookies, temporary files and other data using the "Options" or "Preferences" feature specific to your browser. Make sure that you manually log out of websites and set your browser to never remember passwords before doing this to ensure that login data isn't saved or ignored when clearing cookies and other files.
- Turn off "third party" cookies to reduce the trail you leave as you surf the Web. Cookies are often placed on your computer when you browse a website, but some cookies can be read by other websites for advertising and similar purposes. In your browser's privacy settings, select "Customize Settings" or its equivalent and uncheck the box beside "Accept Third-party Cookies" or a similarly named option.
- Web browsing is often not completely anonymous. Even users who deploy secure plugins and alternate browsers designed for anonymity can sometimes be tracked through the websites they visit or activities they perform online. If you post in chat rooms or on message boards, be aware that your comments may impart revealing information that defeats your efforts to surf the Web anonymously.