FMP: How to stay ‘anonymous’ online?

After writing my creative brief and coming to the conclusion that I wanted to make people aware of the benefits to ‘anonymity’ online, I needed to carry out some research into the matter. I decided to look at some governmental sites that have recommendations for personal data privacy and how we as users can stay safe online. From prior knowledge and research, I know of some ways that I stay ‘anonymous’ and safe online, for instance using VPN’s and not posting any personal information, but I wanted to further look and see what else I can find on the subject. On the Federal Trades Commission website it talks about things such as:

  • Encrypt your data Use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet.
  • Don’t overshare on social media accounts If you post too much information about yourself, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information.
  • Use security software • Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall.
  • Avoid phishing emails Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers.
  • Be wise about the wifi you are using Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected.

TechNadu’s website seconded some of the information and added with:

  • Use Private Browsing Modes It’s important to understand that private browsing modes are actually not very private at all. They are, however, very useful for controlling the types of information stored on your local machine. It prevents your browser from logging your browsing history and doesn’t add anything to automatic forms. It also stops websites from storing cookies, which is information that websites store on your computer so that they can use it later when you visit again.
  • Use a (Non-Logging) VPN • A Virtual Private Network is a type of network technology that encrypts and masks the information that flows to and from your home network so that no one else can tell what you’re doing on the internet. With a properly set up VPN, you can make it almost impossible for anyone to intercept and monitor your information.
  • Secure Your Router Your router is the gateway into and out of your home network. It’s the IP address of the router that the outside world normally sees, not the individual devices that connect to it. If someone gets access to your router from the outside, they can wreak all sorts of havoc on you.
  • Take Advantage of The Tor Browser Tor is a lot of things, but the first thing worth knowing is that it is short for ‘the onion router.’ Tor is actually a worldwide network of nodes and servers that provide a way for anyone to anonymise their data.
  • Activate and Secure Your Firewall A firewall is a piece of hardware or software that inspects every piece of information that passes through your home network to the outside world. The firewall has a set of rules on what should or should not be let through.
  • Read Those Privacy Policies If you really are serious about your anonymity and overall privacy, you owe it to yourself to read through those privacy policies so that you know exactly what you are permitting a given company to do with your information.
  • Keep a Handle on Malware It can happen to the best of us; You visit a site that’s not savory or you connect to a public network without the right security in place. Without even knowing it, your computer can come under the control of outside elements such as criminals or intelligence agencies. This ‘malware’ can make your computer rat you out to whoever owns it. The malware will watch your screen, record your keystrokes and then send all that juicy info back home.
  • Install Remote Wiping Software It may be an expensive device, but if you think about how much the information on it is worth, it may very well be the most valuable thing that you own.
  • Audit Your Apps and Their Permissions We all have smartphones now and they tend to get filled up with apps that we try out and then forgot about. Not only that but when we’re loading up a new app, how many of us stop to think about whether that funny meme app really needs access to our contacts, phone, and microphone?
  • Use Burner Emails to Protect Your Identity Everyone wants your email address these days. You can’t comment on things, download them or subscribe to things without apparently signing away your right to be left alone. Which is why burner email accounts are so useful.
  • Avoid Social Media and Cloud Storage Just because they are run by a big company doesn’t mean they’re safe. That big company is just as bad a threat as hackers.
  • Know Your Right to be Forgotten Being anonymous online isn’t just about becoming anonymous. Sometimes it’s about regaining your anonymity. If you live in the European Union, or your data lives there, you now have the ‘right to be forgotten‘ and can request that search results that relate to you can be expunged from search engines or that companies that have information on you must delete it.

There really is so many ways now to help you stay anonymous online and to stay safe from prying apps. Most of the things above are actually pretty simple for the average person to do for example checking what your apps have access to on your phone or always reading the privacy polities, even though it may be boring. Ultimately, staying ‘anonymous’ on the internet is not just a matter of using certain tools or doing certain things. It’s also about having the right mindset, which values your identity and puts identity issues first.

So why is it important to keep your personal data safe and to stay ‘anonymous’ online? Well from watching The Great Hack we know that there were illegal practices at play during the 2016 American election. Personal data was harvested from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica to manipulate persuadable voters in to voting for Trump. We also know of the Facebook mood experiments that were conducted in 2012 using our personal data to once again manipulate users. Its been shown time and time again that our personal data cannot be trusted in the hands of these large companies. They will use our data against us in ways we may not understand. So why do we still trust them?

Tech 21 Century give some other great examples of why you should consider being anonymous online:

  • Data is valuable • Data is the New Oil of the Digital Economy. Companies are making a fortune from their user’s data, which is good for the economy but bad for users. This is bad because most companies do not ensure adequate security measures, this means that they can be hacked and the data can be used for personal exploitation from criminals, this can especially be an issue for sensitive data. Some companies even sell their users’ data to third parties. As we know knowledge is power, and data is knowledge. From gathering your data, the government and businesses get to analyze and profile you. In the wrong hands, this information can be used to stir you into the directions they want, whether it be to alter your shopping habits to the way you think and vote.
  • Reputation Management It is highly crucial for all of us to be able to manage our reputation to a certain extent. Without privacy that is not possible, we would not want people to know everything we do in our spare time or be harshly judged for something innocent we do which happens to be stigmatized in the community we live. Take for example Ashley Payne, a teacher who was forced to resign after her pictures of her vacation in Europe became public, they were pictures of her drinking which in most places would be considered tame and acceptable, yet she was forced to resign.  When it comes to reputation, one’s careless actions in an earlier age might haunt them tomorrow.
  • Identity Protection • We live in a world where there are still many authoritarian regimes, where citizens can be unjustly persecuted for their behavior, it helps enormously if one can hide their identity when criticizing their regime or engaging in harmless activity such as social media, which happens to be considered illegal in their country. Anonymity also helps greatly when doing research on certain sensitive topics; it also encourages active participation and creativity. Activities which most people would not do under their real name, due to lack of confidence, fear of stigmatization or any other reasons, one example would be writing erotic novels.

In a Reputation Defender article they found a recent study carried out by the Pew Research Center that an astounding 64% of Americans have had their personal information exposed by a data breach of some kind. Of this group:

  • 41% experienced fraudulent credit card charges.
  • 35% had important information (such as an account number) compromised.
  • 16% had their email accounts hacked.
  • 13% had someone else take control of their social media account.
  • 15% had their Social Security number revealed.
  • 14% had someone try to take out lines of credit or loans in their name.
  • 6% had an impostor file fraudulent tax returns under their name.

With todays online climate keeping your information safe is now the expectation, its not just advised. Staying ‘anonymous’ online is a great way of keeping your personal data safe and away from big companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft who collect and store your personal data to be used in ways you may not even know about. However it is important to note that ‘anonymous’ doesn’t mean completely anonymous. In an article by PC it is noted that the only way to stay truly anonymous online is…to not go online at all. However, that’s not really an options for most of us in today social climate, so we undertake ways of staying as anonymous as we can.

In conclusion, online Privacy and Anonymity allow people to focus freely on things they want to do and develop themselves, whether it be professionally, creatively or for entertainment. It allows people to protect themselves in the digital world. It allows people to have political liberty and to express controversial, unpopular opinions without being harassed or silenced. There is no doubt that there is privacy and anonymity misuse online, however, we should not completely censor the internet for some bad apples. Until proper legislation and protection are in place, it is best to take matters into our own hands and ensure our online privacy, by using different tools such as Tor, VPNs, Proxies and other tools.

It may be obvious to some that I think online privacy and anonymity are great things and more people should be aware. I found this research to be really beneficial to my thinking and has given me a better insight to the issue. It also been great to further understand how we can help ourselves when it comes to online privacy. Some of these methods are simple for the regular person to undertake. So far this project has been really interesting and eye-opening to me. I am still unsure on what I want to create for the degree show, I am toying between making something educational like a campaign or something for awareness like a critical piece of design. I am still unsure so I want to write my ideas out and see where I stand.

Sources Used:

(accessed 6th March 2020)

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