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How to Be Anonymous Online in 2023

Callum Tennent's profile image

Callum Tennent oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his VPN advice has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society.

Fact-checked by JP JonesAdditional Research by Alyx Morley

Our Verdict

To browse the internet anonymously, you'll need to use a combination of privacy software including a VPN, the Tor network, Firefox browser, DuckDuckGo, and more. These tools encrypt your internet traffic, hide unique identifiers like your IP address, and prevent browser fingerprinting and other forms of tracking. Do not rely on your browser's incognito mode to be anonymous, as your ISP will still be able to see your browsing activity.

how to stay anonymous online

It’s virtually impossible to be completely anonymous on the internet. However, there are lots of privacy tools available that — when used in combination — can work to hide your activity and identity online.

In the following article, we’ll introduce the most effective ways to browse the internet anonymously in 2023. You’ll learn how to use privacy-enhancing tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs), the Tor browser, private search engines, and more.

We’ll explain exactly how these tools work to protect your anonymity, and which specific versions we recommend.

Later in this guide, we’ll also point out common mistakes for browsing anonymously and whether private or incognito modes actually make you anonymous online.

How to Browse the Internet Anonymously (12 Steps)

In this section, we’ll explain how to be anonymous online using 12 different tools.

In isolation, these tools and techniques are not enough to stop others from tracking you. But when used together, you can effectively block attempts at tracking your online activity and exposing your personal information.

Here are 12 easy steps to keep your data confidential and stay anonymous online:

1. Use a No-Logs VPN (Virtual Private Network)

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a secure virtual tunnel between your device and a private VPN server.

It replaces your IP address with a new IP belonging to the VPN server, and all of your internet activity is encrypted, so it’s impossible for third-parties to decipher.

Screenshot of PIA client with its kill switch enabled in Settings.

PIA has an advanced kill switch that permanently blocks all traffic from leaving your computer when not connected to the VPN.

This prevents your real IP address from being exposed to the websites you visit, disguises your physical location, protects your data transfers across unsecured WiFi networks, and prevents third parties from monitoring your web activity.

In short, using a VPN centralizes your risk and prevents several types of data from being in the hands of the websites you visit and WiFi network providers you use.

However, your VPN service has the technical capacity to observe and record all of your online activity. That means it’s important to choose a VPN service with a strict no-logs policy and RAM-only servers that automatically delete your browsing activity.

The downside to using a high-quality no-logs VPN is that you have to pay a subscription fee. Additionally, if you choose a VPN that logs identifiable information, like your IP address, timestamps, and DNS requests, your online activity is at risk of being exposed.

Here are the key anonymity features to look for in a VPN:

  1. Zero-logs policy
  2. Diskless or RAM-only servers
  3. Effective kill switch
  4. AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols
  5. No DNS or WebRTC leaks

Our Recommendation: Use PIA to Browse Anonymously

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a trustworthy and secure VPN that offers the highest level of privacy possible for a VPN.

What sets PIA apart from its competitors is its proven no-logs policy and advanced security features. Throughout our kill switch tests, PIA continually proved itself to be the most effective VPN at protecting our IP address from accidental leaks.

It also has RAM-only servers, which regularly wipe any data on the server, making it almost impossible for personal data to be extracted in the event of a seizure.

Summary: How Does a VPN Keep You Anonymous Online?

A VPN prevents your real IP address from being exposed to the websites you visit. It encrypts your web traffic and stops ISPs from monitoring your activity.

2. Use the Tor Network

Tor is an open-source, decentralized privacy tool used for accessing the internet anonymously. Short for ‘The Onion Router’, it uses a series of layered nodes to encrypt your web traffic and mask your IP address, location, browsing history, and other data.

To use the Tor network, you can use the Tor browser, set up a proxy to work with Tor, or use a VPN with inbuilt access to Tor servers. Each method has differing levels of security and risk.

If configured correctly, you can browse the internet almost completely anonymously with Tor.

Screenshot of NordVPN connected to a server in the UK, while Tor browser is open on Torch.onion sit.

We used the Tor browser and NordVPN to anonymously browse the dark web.

We only recommend using Tor in extreme circumstances, where your anonymity is vital. In these cases, you can also use Onion over VPN to conceal your real IP address from Tor’s guard node.

A guard node is the point of entry into the Tor network, the first of three nodes, and can potentially expose your real IP address to third-parties.

The Tor browser has effective inbuilt methods for resisting browser fingerprinting. It does this by trying to generate the same fingerprint for all clients, no matter which device or operating system you are using.

EXPERT ADVICE: Make sure to never maximize or change the size of the Tor browser window. If you do, websites can determine your monitor size, which can be used to track you.

Tor has its drawbacks, too. It can dramatically slow down your internet connection and aggressively block JavaScript, negatively affecting your browsing experience.
Blocking JavaScript reduces the risk of hackers exploiting it to steal your data, but it can also break certain websites or significantly reduce their functionality.

The Tor network’s strong affiliation with the dark web and criminal activity can also mark you out for surveillance by your ISP and the government.

It’s a powerful tool, but using Tor can be a huge risk to your online security if done incorrectly. Any private information transferred across the dark web — e.g. credit card information or physical addresses — is at risk of being exposed to websites you’re visiting and other third parties.

Research also shows that there are potentially hundreds of malicious servers on the Tor network, which may be used to de-anonymize users and record their web activity. Even worse, 81% of Tor clients can be de-anonymized using Netflow technology, a type of traffic analysis software.

Summary: How Does Tor Keep You Anonymous Online?

Tor hides your real IP address and encrypts your online activity by passing your web traffic through at least three random servers. The Tor browser also prevents browser fingerprinting by making your browser less unique.

Tor is best suited to more experienced users. If not configured properly, it can leak personally identifiable information and lead to viruses or identity theft. If you’re not confident in using Tor, opt for Firefox instead.

3. Use a Private or Anonymous Browser

If you want to prevent browser fingerprinting, but you don’t want to deal with excruciatingly slow speeds and a limited browsing experience, you can opt for a private web browser.

A private web browser is designed to limit the amount of information you share with third parties when browsing the internet. Once properly configured, it will ensure that your personal information is not shared with large tech companies or advertisers.

Importantly, private web browsers make it difficult for you to be singled out or tracked online. This involves making your browser seem more similar to other browsers to help you blend in.

Firefox normal browser window homepage.

Mozilla Firefox is the best anonymous browser, but it does require some tweaking in Settings.

Some of the best private browsers include the Tor browser, Mozilla Firefox, and Brave browser. They can be configured to block trackers and ads to protect your anonymity online. Other popular browsers, like Safari, Chrome, and Edge collect vast amounts of your sensitive data instead.

Google Chrome browser is the most popular web browser, but is one of the worst offenders in collecting personal information. It can collect data including your passwords, financial information, location, search history, browsing history, interaction data, downloads, and other user identifiers.

Chrome links this data to your other devices and even other people you know. If you enable its sync accounts feature, Google will link all personal data across all its services, like Gmail and YouTube to build an even more extensive profile on you, which can then be sold to advertisers.

By default the Tor browser, which is a modified version of Firefox, has telemetry data collection disabled. Firefox also gives you the option to disable telemetry collection by typing in about:preferences#privacy to the address bar and unticking Allow Firefox to send technical and interaction data to Mozilla.

There isn’t a single browser that can make you completely anonymous by default. The Tor browser can make you almost completely anonymous online, but it’s also so complicated to configure that casual internet users might accidentally expose themselves to criminal or government surveillance by using it.

Our Recommendation: Use Mozilla Firefox to Browse Anonymously

When Mozilla Firefox is configured properly, it is the best private browser for users who value their privacy, speed performance, and ease-of-use.

It doesn’t provide the same extreme level of anonymity as the Tor browser, but it is more useful for the average person wanting to browse the internet anonymously and it doesn’t put you at the same risk of cyber attacks.

Unlike Google Chrome and Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox is completely open-source, which makes it open to scrutiny from all users. This is also why it has so many modified version (or forks), such as LibreWolf and Waterfox.

The browser itself is highly customizable. You can turn on custom Enhanced Tracking Protection, which blocks social media trackers, cross-site tracking cookies, and more. Firefox also has a guide showing you how to prevent Firefox from making automatic connections (or phoning home).

The browser even lets you disable WebRTC, block prefetching DNS requests, and set a filter list to block known third-party trackers.

Summary: How Does a Private Browser Keep You Anonymous Online?

When properly configured, a private browser can block persistent cookies that track you across sites and blocks prefetching DNS requests. They are also compatible with a large variety of privacy and security-enhancing extensions, like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger.

The Tor browser is the most anonymous browser, with inbuilt protection against telemetry data collection, meaning your personal information is not collected and sent back to Big Tech companies. However, it is the most difficult to configure and is extremely slow.

Firefox is the best private browser for most users because it’s highly customizable (with the option to opt out of data collection) and doesn’t sacrifice on ease-of-use or speed. Similar to the Tor browser, you will have to manually configure to optimize for anonymity.

The Chrome browser is one of the worst browsers for keeping you anonymous online because it’s so heavily integrated into Google’s data collection and advertising business infrastructure.

How to Configure Firefox Browser for Anonymity

The most important thing to remember about using a private browser is to configure your browser for optimum anonymity before you start using it.

Firefox privacy and security settings.

Go into Settings > Privacy & Security to optimize Firefox for anonymity.

Here are some essential steps to configuring your Firefox browser for maximum anonymity:

  1. Enable strict enhanced tracking protection, or choose which trackers to block manually.
  2. Disable Firefox technical and interaction data collection and use.
  3. Change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo.
  4. Change advanced Firefox privacy settings by typing in about:config.

If you’d rather use a browser out-of-the-box, you can also check out LibreWolf, which is pre-configured for online anonymity.


LibreWolf is a custom configuration of Firefox that prioritizes online privacy, security, and freedom. Essentially, it’s a version of Firefox that’s already been pre-configured for maximum anonymity.

It’s designed to protect you against trackers and fingerprinting, while also optimizing security and maintaining an easy-to-use client. LibreWolf also aims to remove all the telemetry, data collection, and anti-freedom features like DRM.

The developers of LibreWolf aim to have each updated version of the software within three days of a Firefox update and have an active online community.

4. Use a Private Search Engine

Private search engines like DuckDuckGo and Qwant prioritize user privacy.
They offer an alternative to Google, Bing, and Yahoo, which collect and store user data to improve search results and show targeted advertising.

Search engines can record the following information about you:

  • Search queries
  • Timestamps of your queries
  • IP address
  • Physical location
  • User agent
  • Cookie-based unique identifiers

These key data points can be combined to create a user profile that search engines use to push personalized ads.

To avoid this, we recommend opting for a lesser known search engine that prioritizes its users’ anonymity and online privacy.

DuckDuckGo browser window homepage.

DuckDuckGo is the most popular private search engine.

However, a lot of the private search engines don’t offer the same polished user experience or level of search results as mainstream search engines.

If you’re searching for a broad term, you might have to sacrifice a few extra minutes scrolling through search results to find what you’re looking for.

But if you’re using a private search engine for specific searches and prioritize your online anonymity, you’ll have no problem using them day-to-day.

Our Recommendation: Use DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a privacy-focused search engine that doesn’t track your search history and avoids the filter bubble of personalized search results.

Furthermore, DuckDuckGo is so private that it’s been the default search engine for the Tor Browser since 2016. As Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo states:

Using Tor and DDG, you can now be end to end anonymous with your searching. And if you use our encrypted homepage, you can be end to end encrypted as well.

DuckDuckGo also offers a useful browser extension that uses advanced tracker-blocking and makes sure you visit HTTPS encrypted versions of websites.

Screenshot of the DuckDuckGo browser extension blocking ads and tracking requests from Facebook, Google, and more.

We used DuckDuckGo’s browser extension on Firefox to block tracking requests on nfl.com.

Lastly, it’s important to note that a private search engine does not make you completely anonymous online if not combined with other privacy tools, such as a VPN or a private browser like Tor.

Summary: How Do Private Search Engines Keep You Anonymous Online?

Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo deletes your search queries after each session and doesn’t store this data for analytics or advertisers. It also doesn’t save your IP address, timestamps, and other unique identifiers when you use it.

DuckDuckGo can be enabled as your default search engine and offers a helpful browser extension that encrypts your connection and blocks known trackers.

5. Use an Encrypted Messaging App

Encrypted messaging apps, like Whatsapp and Signal, provide end-to-end encryption to protect the privacy of their users’ communications.

Encrypting your communications prevents third-parties, such as your ISP or mobile data provider, app provider, or government from intercepting and reading your private messages.

We recommend choosing an encrypted messaging app that’s open-source, which means that the app’s source code is available to view and critique. This helps ensure that the app doesn’t have any backdoors or vulnerabilities to cyber attacks.

Signal app on iPhone showing a conversation and advanced settings.

Signal’s app is minimalist, easy-to-use, and offers end-to-end encryption.

It’s important to keep in mind that some of these apps may have limited features, such as no audio or video calls. These apps might also require you to input certain personal information, like your phone number or email address, in order to verify your account.

However, there are workarounds, such as using a pseudonym or a burner mobile number to receive verification messages.

Our Recommendation: Use Signal

Signal is the gold standard of secure messaging apps, and it’s the best free encrypted messaging app of 2023. It helps you achieve confidentiality without sacrificing a premium user experience.

Its source code and protocols are all available for anyone to see. Its Sealed Sender feature hides metadata about the sender, which is unique to the platform. It’s also available on all major platforms, including iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, and Debian-based Linux distributions.

Signal offers audio calls, video calls, group calls, and even emoji reactions to messages, giving it a similar feel to iMessage and Messenger.

But Signal isn’t without its flaws. Signal’s biggest drawback is that you have to enter your phone number to sign up. But, the good news is that you can use a throwaway number to sign up.

To do this, either use a Google Voice phone number (only available in the US), a phone number from Skype, or a cheap prepaid SIM card when signing up.

Why We Don’t Recommend Threema

Threema is a popular instant messaging app that costs $5.00 and advertises itself as completely anonymous.

Unlike Signal, you don’t have to provide a phone number to use Threema. It’s even cleared by European government and army departments for official communications.

However, a paper published by ETH Zurich in 2023 found seven critical vulnerabilities in Threema’s security. It even recommends that Threema adopt Signal’s protocol to combat its weaknesses.

In short, despite being a paid service, Threema lacks the advanced security protocol that Signal offers. If you can live with Signal’s use of your phone number, it’s a much safer option.

Summary: How Does Encrypted Messaging Keep You Anonymous Online?

Signal ensure that third-parties, like your app or network provider, are unable to see your private messages. Keeping your messages out of iMessage, Messenger and Instagram DMs also prevents Big Tech from seeing your conversations and using it for advertising purposes.

6. Use Encrypted Storage

Encrypted storage means securing and protecting your files by encrypting them before storing them in a device or the cloud.

Encrypted storage is a great way to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information like your financial data, confidential documents, and photos. Keeping these encrypted decreases the likelihood of them being stolen or leaked by hackers.

If you prioritize convenience as well as anonymity, NordVPN offers a suite of privacy tools that complement each other, including an encrypted storage service called NordLocker.

Our Recommendation: Sync.com

Major online storage services like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive offer encrypted storage, but they might still have access to your files and data.

Screenshot of Sync.com on macOS.

Sync is easy-to-use and has a helpful FAQ section on its website.

Sync.com is a safe and secure alternative that offers end-to-end encryption for files. The encrypted storage service also offers local-drive encryption, password protection, and two-factor authentication.

Summary: How Does Encrypted Storage Keep You Anonymous Online?

Encrypted storage ensures that any files, documents, and images you have are encrypted and protected in a private cloud.

7. Use a Live Operating System (OS)

Live operating systems (like TAILS, Whonix, and Ubuntu) increase your online anonymity by providing a private virtual environment for you to browse the internet. These operating systems run directly from a CD or USB, rather than loading from a hard disk drive.

A live operating system gives you the flexibility to fully customize your operating system and secure it against cyberattacks.

Screenshot of Tails live operating system.

TAILs uses the Tor network to hide your online activity.

These systems are great if there’s a specific task where you require complete online anonymity compared to most casual computer users, but they’re definitely not built for a smooth everyday browsing experience.

Not only does a live operating system often come with inherently limited storage, especially compared to macOS and Windows, they’re also often slower as they rely on the speed of a CD or USB.

Physical CDs and USBs can also easily be lost, stolen, or damaged in everyday use.

Overall, we recommend only using a live operating system for specific tasks that require extreme anonymity. Otherwise, it may not be suitable for everyone and for everyday use.

There’s often a considerable learning curve that you can’t avoid when deciding to set up a live operating system.

Our Recommendation: Using Tails

Tails is a live operating system that uses the Tor network to protect your privacy online and help you avoid censorship. Without Tails, everything you do on your computer can leave a trace, including files that have been deleted.

To combat this, Tails takes a different approach. It never writes anything to the hard disk and only runs from the memory of the computer. This means all memory is completely erased when you shutdown Tails, including all possible traces of your files and activity.

To use Tails, shut down the computer and start on your Tails USB stick instead of starting on Windows, macOS, or Linux.

NOTE: To use Tails, you need a USB with at least 8GB of data. Make sure this USB is only for Tails and doesn’t have any other files installed. The Tails website has a useful installation guide hub with step by step instructions.

However, Tails does not protect you from everything. Your identity could be revealed if you share files with metadata, such as date, time, location, and device information. Additionally, if you use Tails for more than one purpose at a time, those two activities could potentially be connected.

Lastly, Tails cannot detect if a device is already infected with a virus. It also can’t secure a device that has compromised firmware or hardware.

Summary: How Does a Secure OS Keep You Anonymous Online?

Tails is a live operating system that eliminates the traces of identifiable information left on a Windows or macOS. Similar to RAM-only servers, each time it is disconnected from an electricity source, all data is permanently wiped from the USB.

Tails is highly suited for specific tasks that require higher levels of anonymity and might not be useful for day-to-day casual internet browsing. It’s a great resource for journalists and activists that require anonymity.

8. Use a Temporary Email Address

Temporary email addresses, also known as disposable email addresses, are designed to be used for a short period of time before being discarded.

Some temporary email address websites and services provide these email addresses for only 10 minutes, and some provide them for use across multiple days.

10MinuteMail.com website showing an email sent to the temporary email.

Using 10MinuteMail.com, it only took seconds to create a temporary email address.

One of the major benefits of using a temporary email address is avoiding spam and marketing emails. It’s also a good way to communicate privately online, though Signal might be more convenient and anonymous for instant messaging.

EXPERT ADVICE: If you want to keep your emails, use a VPN to create a throwaway email account with no identifiable information in the address.

There are also some potential drawbacks to temporary email addresses. Firstly, some websites and services don’t let you sign up with a temporary email address. Secondly, any important emails sent to the address after it’s been discarded will not be delivered.

To summarize, temporary email addresses are great for avoiding spam. Using one also decreases your chances of identity theft or fraud. However, temporary email addresses might not be the most convenient solution for general communication.

Summary: How Does a Temporary Email Address Keep You Anonymous Online?

Using a temporary email address prevents exposure of your real email address online. This helps you avoid spam, which can lead to identity theft or fraud. It can also be used for anonymous or private communication.

9. Use an Ad-Blocker

Ad blockers filter out online advertisements on websites, which can help protect your online privacy by preventing advertisers from tracking your online activity.

However, ad blockers are not a foolproof way to stay anonymous online. Websites might still track you with persistent cookies or browser fingerprinting.

Our Recommendation: Use uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin is a trustworthy and reliable browser extension for blocking persistent ads. It successfully blocks YouTube ads, banner ads, popup ads, and more.

Blocking ads on YouTube using uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin successfully blocks YouTube adverts.

It’s also completely free, open-source, and doesn’t use much device memory. It’s also widely available on all popular browsers: Chrome, Chromium, MS Edge, Opera, Firefox, and all Safari releases prior to 13.

You can even report bugs to the uBlock Origin GitHub page, which is also a great resource for troubleshooting.

Advanced Recommendation: Use Pi-hole on a Raspberry Pi

Pi-hole is a network-wide ad-blocker that protects your network from trackers and ads, without having to set it up on each divide individually. It works by blocking domains known to be hosting ads, trackers, or other suspicious activity.

However, this solution is not suited to beginners. Setting up a Pi-hole is difficult if you’re unfamiliar with the Linux command line. Configuring your router to work using Raspberry Pi as the DNS server may also be complicated, depending on your router’s model and firmware.

Setting up pi-hole

Pi-hole blocks non-video YouTube Ads.

Unlike browser extensions that only work for in-browser ads, Pi-hole can block ads on any software using your network — e.g. your smart appliances, like an Amazon Echo or Google Nest.

Pi-hole comes with its own extensive block list out of the box. But if you want to customize your block list, you can find categorized domains on Firebog or Blocklist Project.

On Firebog, domains are categorized into advertising, tracking, malicious, and more. Whereas Blocklist Project covers those and highly specific lists: gambling, pornography, and TikTok.

Summary: How Does an Ad Blocker Keep You Anonymous Online?

Ad blockers prevent third-party advertisers and trackers from recording your online activity. It will also block intrusive ads that might use personalized data collection to feed you targeted ads. An ad blocker can also block malicious domains that are known for fraud or viruses.

10. Check Privacy Policies & App Permissions

Reading privacy policies and checking your app permissions is an important part of making sure your data isn’t exploited or misused. Privacy policies are legal documents that outline how a website, product, or service collects, stores, and uses data from its users.

When you install and launch a new app on mobile, you might receive notifications requesting access to your location, audio, or camera data. Refuse these requests to make sure these apps aren’t tracking your location or constantly recording audio from your device.

For example, we’ve read the privacy policies of 55 VPNs, analyzing which collect, store, and share identifying information. We ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. What types of data does this service store?
  2. Is the data stored aggregated and anonymized?
  3. How long is this data stored for?

Summary: How Does Checking Privacy Policies Keep You Anonymous Online?

Companies are legally required to state when and how they record, use, or sell your data. Analyzing the privacy policies of devices and services is an extremely important step to maintaining your anonymity online.

To protect your online privacy and anonymity, you should avoid companies that exploit or misuse your data.

11. Pay Using Cryptocurrency or Cash

Cryptocurrencies are completely decentralized and built on blockchain technology. A current lack of governance and oversight leads many to think cryptocurrencies are completely anonymous. But, that’s actually not the case.

For example, Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency available. But all Bitcoin transactions are recorded and transparent on a public ledger, meaning anyone can trace a transaction to a specific wallet.

If you then use a cryptocurrency exchange that has an extensive “know your customer” policy — which might have requested ID and financial documents — your wallet and currency exchange into dollars (or any other currency) could be linked to you.

It’s important to acknowledge that cryptocurrencies are not infallible and wallets can be traced and seized by the government. Despite this, some cryptocurrencies have inbuilt anonymity features that make it more difficult to trace payments.

Our Recommendation: Use Monero for Specific Purchases

Monero is a cryptocurrency that prioritizes anonymity. Unlike Bitcoin, Monero doesn’t track transactions on a public blockchain by default.

It has several inbuilt features to maintain your anonymity, including:

  1. Ring signatures: A type of digital signature that makes Monero transactions untraceable.
  2. Stealth Addresses: Ensures only the sender and receiver can determine where a payment was sent.

Alternative Recommendation: Use Cash for Specific Purchases

Physical cash transactions are much harder to trace than digital transactions. Some VPNs, like IVPN and Mullvad, also accept cash payments for their service to further increase their customers’ anonymity.

However, paying with physical cash for goods and services means giving up the convenience of a credit card or contactless mobile payments.

Summary: How Do Cryptocurrencies and Cash Keep You Anonymous Online?

Some cryptocurrencies, like Monero, make your payments and purchases much more difficult to trace back to you. However, not all cryptocurrencies have the same anonymity-focused values.

Many cryptocurrencies publish their transactions on a public ledger, which could be used to trace payments back to a user.

If you’re wary of cryptocurrency, physical cash payments are a great alternative. You might lose the convenience of digital payments, but it’s much harder to track the origins of physical cash.

12. Disable Cookies in Your Browser

Cookies are text files with small pieces of data — like a username or password — that are stored in your browser and can be used to identify your device.

Session and persistent cookies are specifically used by websites to track your online behavior. To avoid this, regularly clear your cookies (preferably every time you leave a website) and fully disable cookies in your browser.

When you disable cookies in your browser, websites can’t use them to track your behavior and online browsing history.

Firefox browser cookie settings.

Firefox gives you the option to block all cookies and cross-site tracking cookies.

Disabling cookies isn’t a foolproof way to stop third-parties snooping on your browsing history, as you can still be targeted with browser fingerprinting, but it’s still essential if you’re using a popular browser like Firefox or Google Chrome.

Google showing a notification that says"Cookies and disabled. Make sure your cookies are enabled and try again."

Google blocked us from logging in with cookies disabled in Safari.

Disabling all cookies can negatively affect your browsing experience, causing some websites to break or not load properly. Firefox tackles this by giving multiple options, ranging from absolutely no cookies to just first-party cookies.

Summary: How Does Disabling Cookies Keep You Anonymous Online?

Cookies are unique identifiers that allow websites to track your behavior across the internet. They are widely used for advertising purposes and to create a user profile, which can then be used for targeted advertising.

How to Disable Cookies in Different Browsers

Firefox and the Tor browser are the best browsers for online anonymity, but it’s possible to stop cookies from tracking you in other browsers, too.

Here’s how to block cookies in Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Brave:

  1. Open Firefox and click on the hamburger icon on the right.
  2. Click on Settings > Privacy & Security.
  3. Under Enhanced Tracking Protection, scroll down to Custom and tick the box marked Cookies.
  4. In the drop-down menu, select All third-party cookies for extreme protection or opt for Cross-site tracking cookies, and isolate other cross-site cookies.
Google Chrome
  1. Open Google Chrome and click on the three dots icon in the top-right corner.
  2. Scroll down to Settings > Privacy & Security in the left hand tabs.
  3. Click on Cookies and other site data.
  4. Scroll down and click Block third-party cookies or Block all cookies.
Apple Safari:
  1. Open Safari > Preferences.
  2. Go to the Privacy tab.
  3. Scroll down to Cookies and website data and tick box Block all cookies.
  4. Underneath the tick box, click on the Manage Website Data button.
  5. From here, you can see which websites have data stored on you. Click on Remove All and then Done.
  1. Open Brave > Settings.
  2. In Additional Settings > Privacy and Security > Cookies and other side data.
  3. Then under General settings, choose Block third-party cookies or Block all cookies, depending on your threat model.

Summary: The Tools You Need to Be Anonymous Online

The best way to maintain anonymity online is to use a combination of privacy tools and techniques. There’s no perfect configuration, as everyone’s risk model is different. But, we recommend getting started with these tools.

Here’s a summary of the best tools we recommend for staying anonymous online:

  1. Private Internet Access: A secure, no-logs VPN that’s fast, easy-to-use, and offers strong AES-256 encryption. This tool will hide your real IP address and prevent your ISP from recording your online activity.
  2. The Tor Browser: Sends your traffic through three separate nodes, resists browser fingerprinting, and has inbuilt protection against third-party trackers. This solution is only recommended to experienced users and is suited to specific tasks that require high-anonymity.
  3. Mozilla Firefox: Highly customizable web browser with advanced anti-tracking and the option to block prefetching DNS requests. In contrast to the Tor browser, this option is more suited to casual, everyday online browsing. It doesn’t achieve Tor’s level of anonymity, but it’s faster and easier to use.
  4. DuckDuckGo: A trustworthy privacy-focused search engine that deletes your search queries and blocks third-party trackers. Its browser extension also blocks trackers on other websites too.
  5. Signal: The most secure and private instant messaging app on iOS and Android. It’s free, open-source, encrypts your messages, and has similar features to other popular messaging apps, like iMessenger and WhatsApp. Offers private voice calls, video calls, and file sharing.
  6. Sync.com: End-to-end encrypted data storage and file transfer. Password-protects your files with two-factor authentication and prevents third-parties selling your data.
  7. Tails: A portable live operating system that protects you against surveillance and online censorship. A private operating system that complements the Tor network to achieve high security and anonymity.
  8. 10MinuteMail: A free and simple tool for creating a temporary email address. All emails and data are stored for two hours before being permanently deleted. This tool is suited to avoiding advertising communications and keeping your real email address hidden.
  9. uBlockOrigin: A free browser extension that blocks advertisements and third-party trackers. It has open-source, clear documentation on Github. Complements a Firefox browser configuration.
  10. Monero: A decentralized cryptocurrency that prioritizes anonymity. Monero doesn’t publish all transactions on a public ledger and has inbuilt features to reduce traceability of its users. As with all cryptocurrencies, any vulnerabilities in a wallet or exchange can affect your anonymity.

Anonymous Browsing: What Not to Do

If you’re looking to browse the internet anonymously, there are certain practices and products that you should avoid. Here are some things to avoid for anonymous browsing:

Don’t Post Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

No matter how many privacy tools you use, if you’re sharing your real name, physical location, address, or financial information online, you’re at risk of someone or something tracing this information back to you.

Instead of posting personally identifiable information online, disable your location services on your mobile device, pay using cryptocurrency or a virtual card when making online purchases, and consider using a PO box when shopping online.

Don’t Use Voice Assistants

Voice assistants in your mobile and smart home devices automatically record and store audio in privately-owned cloud servers. This means these companies might have access to any sensitive information spoken aloud.

Google settings gives you the option to auto-delete activity older than 3 months.

Google Assistant Activity includes data on Search, Maps, Play, and voice recordings on devices.

If you already have an Amazon Echo or Google Nest, you can configure it to automatically delete audio recordings.

Don’t Use Social Media

Popular social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram encourage you to share personally identifiable information online. You might even have to create an account just to view content on the platform.

If online anonymity is a strict priority, then we recommend completely avoiding social media. Removing yourself from these platforms decreases the likelihood of third-party tracking. It also decreases the likelihood that you will be presented with highly-specific targeted ads.

However, if you don’t want to stay away from social media, you can instead take steps to increase your anonymity on these platforms by creating an account that’s not linked to your personal information.

Don’t Use HTTP-Only Websites

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) creates a TLS-encrypted connection between you and the websites you visit.

It prevents attackers from intercepting your web traffic, and prevents your ISP from seeing the exact pages you visit — although it can still see the domain you’ve requested.

Most websites now use safer HTTPS, but not every website does.

If you visit an HTTP-only website, none of the data transmitted will be encrypted. This means your ISP can see everything you’re doing, and your data will be vulnerable to interception by third-parties.

Firefox HTTPS-Only Mode settings.

In Firefox, we enabled HTTPS-Only mode in Settings > Privacy & Security.

To avoid this vulnerability, make sure to only use websites with HTTPS. You can use a browser extension like HTTPS Everywhere to do this, but all major browsers now offer native support for HTTPS-only mode too.

Don’t Use Untrustworthy VPN Services

A VPN centralizes your risk by creating a private connection between your device and a privately-owned server.

When you use a VPN, you offset responsibility for your data from your ISP to your VPN provider.

This is great if the VPN can be trusted, and its servers are configured to immediately delete information (unlike your ISP, which saves your browsing history). However, it can also be bad if the VPN is saving the information it has access to.

X-VPN requesting permission to track your activity on iOS

X-VPN attempts to track your activity both online and across different apps on iOS.

When connected to a VPN, the service provider can technically have access to your real IP address, DNS requests, connection timestamps, device information, and more.

As a result, it’s important to only use a trustworthy VPN that doesn’t log any identifiable information. Never use VPNs that log your:

  • Real IP address
  • VPN server IP address
  • Browsing history
  • Connection timestamps

A combination of a strict no-logs policy and RAM-only servers ensures that any data saved is wiped periodically.

Avoid iOS & Android for Anonymity

Android is more private than iOS, but both operating systems are not ideal for maintaining anonymity. These devices are designed to collect user data for analysis and advertising purposes.

Apple and Google have access to almost everything you do on a mobile device.

Screenshot showing Psiphon pro has 13 trackers and 11 permissions in the app.

Psiphon Pro on Android has way too many trackers and permissions.

That’s not the only downside. Many anonymity tools — VPNs included — lack security features on mobile devices compared to their desktop counterparts. There’s no official Tor browser for iOS and no live operating systems, like TAILS.

Mobile apps often request access to personal data such as your location, camera, and microphone, even if it’s not necessary. Every time you send a text message or make a call using your mobile network, this data, combined with your location, is recorded.

A mobile phone is also easier to steal than a laptop or PC. If someone is then able to unlock or hack into your device, any information stored in it can be accessed.

What Is Anonymous Browsing?

Anonymous browsing is a way of using the internet without revealing your identity or personal information to the websites you visit.

Browsing anonymously can protect you from targeted advertising, online tracking, and other forms of online surveillance.

It’s typically achieved through a combination of software such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), The Onion Router (Tor), and private browsers. These tools work together to hide your IP address, browsing activity, location data, and other identifying information.

However, even the best privacy software has weaknesses. That’s why you should layer your protection with a combination of privacy tools and strategies, ensuring that the websites you visit extract as little personal information about you as possible.

Anonymous browsing does not refer to your web browser’s private mode — e.g. Chrome’s Incognito mode or Safari’s Private Browsing.

These do not help you achieve online anonymity, because your ISP can still view your browsing history. They don’t prevent browser fingerprinting, either.

What’s the Difference Between Online Privacy, Security & Anonymity?

Difference between online anonymity, online privacy, and internet security.

Online privacy, online anonymity, and internet security are related concepts that are often used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings.

Here is a summary of the key differences:

  1. Online anonymity means concealing your identity online. It involves using software to prevent third parties from tracking and identifying you using information such as your name, email address, location, or financial details.
  2. Online privacy means concealing your activity online. It involves using encryption and other tools to prevent third parties from monitoring your browsing history or communication with others.Maintaining your online privacy also involves keeping personal information confidential, preventing unauthorized access to your data, and making sure that data isn’t used for other purposes without your consent.
  3. Internet security means protecting your devices and networks from unauthorized access, theft, or damage. To achieve internet security, you should use tools such as antivirus software, strong passwords, and multi-factor authentication to prevent and detect cyberattacks.

In summary, online anonymity is about concealing your identity, online privacy is about concealing your activity or controlling the information you share, and internet security is about protecting your devices against cyberattacks.

Can You Actually Achieve 100% Anonymity Online?

It is extremely difficult to achieve complete anonymity online. In fact, it’s virtually impossible unless you can create your own server and router network, which is unrealistic for most people.

However, there are tools and techniques you can use to enhance your anonymity online and make it harder for your ISP, government, and others to track your online activity.

Here are some of the most common types of online tracking, and why they make achieving complete anonymity so difficult:

  • IP address: Your ISP assigns you a unique IP address, which can be used to identify you on the internet and track your browsing history.
  • Third-party cookies: Websites use third-party cookies, also known as persistent cookies, to track your activity across the internet. Advertisers then use this data to show you ads for products they think you’ll be interested in.
  • Browser fingerprinting: Some websites use information about your device, such as its operating system and browser, to create a unique identifier that can be used to track your activity.
  • Pixel tracking: Advertisers use pixel tags in emails or on websites to collect data about your device, operating system, browsing activity, the clients you use (e.g. the browser or email program), and even your IP address.
  • Social media: Social media websites encourage you to share your personal information online. It’s possible to gather a lot of data if you make these accounts public and share lots of personal details like your name and geographic location.

In summary, every time you access the internet, there’s a third-party trying to track you. There are multiple ways these third parties can track your online activity — even when you’ve opted out.

The best way to stay anonymous online is to combat each one of these tracking methods individually.

Even if you have privacy tools enabled, any details you share online — e.g. financial information or a delivery address — can be traced back to you if you’re not careful.

Private Browsing & Incognito Mode: Will It Make You Anonymous Online?

Private browsing (or incognito mode) does not make you 100% anonymous online. In fact, your ISP can still see every page you visit on the internet.

Here’s a table summarizing what Incognito Mode actually does:

Incognito Mode Does:
Incognito Mode Does Not:
  • Delete your browsing history after each session
  • Delete cookies and cache after each session
  • Hide your IP address
  • Stop your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online
  • Encrypt your internet traffic
  • Stop browser fingerprinting

Even with private browsing mode enabled, persistent cookies and other browser fingerprinting techniques can be used to track your behavior and identity online.

That’s why we suggest using multiple different tools and techniques to keep your browsing history private and stay anonymous online.

How to Check For Browser Fingerprinting

There are several tools you can use to check if your browser fingerprint is unique and whether your browser prevents fingerprinting. Here are two ways to check if your browser is resistant to fingerprinting:

Use the Fingerprint Pro Demo

Fingerprint Pro is widely used by companies to identify who is visiting their website, even if you’ve changed your IP address with a VPN or proxy.

It assigns each visitor a unique visitorID (or a browser fingerprint), which is gathered from device details, geolocation, and persistent cookies.

Fingerprint demo showing a unique visitorID, IP address, whether incognito mode is enabled, and browser information.

Fingerprint Pro demo clearly shows whether your browser and device has been fingerprinted and identified.

Using its free demo, you can check whether your anonymity tools are actually effective against browser fingerprinting technology currently in use.

Here’s how to check if your browser is resistant to fingerprinting using Fingerprint Pro:

  1. Open your chosen browser.
  2. Visit fingerprint.com/demo/ and write down your vistorID.
  3. Close your tab and open up your browser Settings.
  4. Clear your cookies and enable any anti-tracking features or tools.
  5. Close and reopen your browser.
  6. Open www.fingerprint.com/demo/ again.
  7. If your visitorID has stayed the same, your browser isn’t resistant to fingerprinting because the website was able to identify you, even with privacy settings and tools enabled.
  8. If your vistorID has changed, your browser in combination with anonymity features and tools were able to successfully avoid browser fingerprinting.

Use the http.james Fingerprinting Tool

Similar to Fingerprint Pro, http.james collects data about your browser and device to determine whether you can easily be fingerprinted.

HTTP.James fingerprinting test.

This tool shows you whether your browser has been fingerprinted and identified.

Where this test differs from Fingerprint Pro is that it shows results for two types of fingerprinting: client-side and server-side. Here’s a brief summary of the data collected to create a fingerprint:

  1. Server-side fingerprinting: User-Agent, Accept-Language, Accept-Encoding, and more. Other headers, like cookies and cache-control are sometimes used, but not always.
  2. Client-side fingerprinting: Installed font, Timezone, Timezone Spoof status, screen height and width, and more.

Here’s how to test if your browser is able to resist server-side and client-side fingerprinting:

  1. Open your chosen browser.
  2. Visit http.james’ tool and make sure to note down how many times you’ve visited the page in each test.
  3. Close this tab and open up your browser Settings.
  4. Clear your cookies and enable any anti-tracking features or tools.
  5. Close and reopen your browser.
  6. Open http.james’ tool and record if the seen count is correct.

How to Use Incognito Mode on Different Browsers

Incognito mode (also known as private browsing mode) doesn’t make you completely anonymous online.

However, it does ensure your cookies and cache are deleted each time you close the window.

The following instructions show you how to enable incognito mode in four popular browsers:


Firefox normal and private browsing modes.

It takes less than three seconds to open Private Browsing mode in Firefox.

Here’s how to open Private Browsing mode on Firefox:

  1. Open Firefox and click on the hamburger icon (three lines) on the right-hand side.
  2. Click on the New private window option.
  3. A private window will open in dark mode and show a white mask on a purple icon in the top right corner.
  4. If you can’t see a mask icon, you might already have private browsing mode enabled on all windows. To check if private browsing is already enabled, go into Settings > Privacy & Security and scroll down to History.

Google Chrome

Google Chrome normal and incognito mode browser windows.

It’s easy to open incognito mode on Google Chrome.

Here’s how to turn on incognito mode in Google chrome:

  1. Open Google Chrome and click on the three dots in the top-right corner.
  2. Click on the New Incognito Window option.
  3. A new window will now open in dark mode, saying “You’ve gone Incognito” and showing an icon with a hat and glasses.

Apple Safari

Safari private browsing mode.

Private Browsing in Safari is indicated by a gray search bar.

Here’s how to open a Private Browsing window in Safari:

  1. Open Safari > File.
  2. Scroll down and click on New Private Window. When opened, it should have a dark gray bar at the top, instead of white.
  3. If you want to set private browsing mode as your default, you can go into Settings > General > Set Default > A new private window.


Brave private window.

Brave’s Private Window with Tor is not as anonymous or safe as the Tor Browser.

Here’s how to open a private window in Brave:

  1. Open Brave and click on the hamburger button on the right side of the window.
  2. Click on New Private Window. It will open a new private window in dark mode with a glasses’ icon.

How to Be Anonymous on Different Websites

Many websites like Reddit, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or OnlyFans require you to create an account before viewing content. They also all require you to provide some personal information, such as a name, email address, or phone number, to sign up.

Some of these sites include a private browsing mode. For example, Reddit has an Anonymous Browsing mode. When turned on, Reddit won’t do the following:

  • Save your browsing or search history to your Reddit account
  • Use your Reddit activity to personalize your recommendations
  • Use your Reddit activity to send you personalized notifications

But, Reddit Anonymous Browsing fails to stop your ISP from snooping on your browsing history. Additionally, any websites you open using the in-app browser will also be subject to third-party cookies and trackers.

Therefore, we suggest using a combination of tools and strategies to stay anonymous on social media and membership platforms.

If you want to be anonymous while on social media, we recommend taking the following steps:

  1. Create a new account using a temporary email address and fake name. Avoid using any identifiable information in your username.
  2. Connect to a VPN before browsing. A VPN will hide your real IP address and prevent your ISP from snooping on your browsing history while on reddit.
  3. Use a privacy-focused browser like Firefox or the Tor browser. Make sure to properly configure these browsers to disable cookies and block trackers.
  4. Don’t reveal personal information. Avoid posting personal information, such as your real name, physical location, email address or phone number.
  5. Use a prepaid card or Monero when making purchases online that you want to keep anonymous. On your credit card statement, any payments made out to these companies will clearly show the company name.

How Do I Browse the Internet Anonymously?

You need a combination of tools and strategies to browse the internet anonymously. First, use a VPN to hide your IP address and encrypt your internet traffic.

Second, use a private browser like Firefox or the Tor browser to avoid browser fingerprinting and prevent cookies from tracking your activity. Remember to configure these browsers correctly to maximize your anonymity.

Third, use a privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo. Lastly, avoid logging into websites and sharing personally identifying information online on social media.

Can You Be Completely Anonymous Online?

It’s extremely difficult to be completely anonymous online. However, you can take steps to increase your online anonymity and block your ISP, government, and others from tracking your activity.

It’s a long process, but once you have installed a VPN, configured your browser, and set a default search engine, you’ll radically improve your online anonymity.

Can Incognito Browsing Be Traced?

A browser’s incognito or private mode does not protect you from your ISP from spying on your browsing history. The only thing an incognito mode does is prevent whoever uses your device next from seeing your history.

When using incognito mode, your IP address and device information are still visible, making you vulnerable to browser fingerprinting.