Anonymity is the state of being unknown. We might ask, why would we want to be unknown? Especially given that many of us profit from being known.
The answer is, the internet is not as private as we think. Our social media, our internet search history, our devices, our beliefs and practically everything else is monitored by one or many entities. There is no privacy online in the actual sense. Even if we are not doing anything illegal, it's a good idea to strive for anonymity so our personal information is not weaponised against us.
Before we proceed, let's learn three commonly-used terms. (You can also skip this section and proceed to the next.)
IP address - An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a numerical label assigned to each communicative device to interact with each other. Generally, it looks something like this - 220.127.116.11.
DNS - Domain Name System (DNS) is the 'phonebook' of the internet. Your computer does not understand English or any other language in the world. But it knows the language of 0s and 1s. When you enter the name of a website into your search bar, it goes to the DNS server (before reaching any other server) where it translates your words (www.somewebsite.com) to an IP address. It then sends that information to the website you are looking for.
Server - Think of a server as a place where any information is stored. Whenever you want to access information, you use a search engine. Servers are like folders on your computer, except they are accessed on the internet.
Four ways to be anonymous on the internet
There are many ways to be anonymous on the internet. Here are four ways:
VPNs are increasingly popular. They are commonly used to access content that is blocked. For example, VPNs are used by people to watch shows that aren't available in their home countries.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel and routes your internet traffic to its server (which is present in some other country) before accessing the server of your original search.
For example, let's say you use a VPN app on your phone. When you click on the 'connect' button, it might connect to Germany. That means all the internet traffic is being routed to a VPN server that is present in Germany. If you check your IP address, it will show the IP address of the server in Germany. If you type in "www.facebook.com", that request first goes to the VPN server in Germany. From there it will reach one of Facebook's servers. The reply to the request comes back to the VPN server and from there back to your mobile phone.
A Proxy or Proxy Server is a system which works as an intermediary between your computer and the server you are trying to connect. Unlike with a VPN, the traffic here might not be encrypted. You can use free proxies through which you can route your traffic.
3) The Tor Network
The Tor Network is a group of servers that helps users to improve their privacy and security while browsing. Unlike the clearnet, i.e., the internet that you use daily, Tor routes all your traffic through a series of virtual tunnels before reaching their destination. You can access the Tor network using the Tor browser.
4) I2P Network
The Invisible Internet Project or I2P is a network layer which helps you to send and receive information pseudonymously. You can surf the web, chat, blog, transfer files, etc. without revealing your identity. You can configure the I2P network here.
This article is part of a series on digital literacy titled Digital Buddhi, aimed at helping you be safe online.
Amoghavarsha is a digital investigator and a journalist.