Internet Privacy: How to Keep Your Data Anonymous, Really

Written by Max Cherney

Browse the Web Anonymously with Tor — For people who want anonymity on the web, the Tor project is the way to go. If you’re not on board yet, however, the browser bundle is available for free download at the Tor project’s website. Built on the Mozilla code base, the web browser makes it considerably more difficult for third parties to track any user’s browsing activity.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the organization’s website, Tor was originally development with the U.S. Navy in mind as a way to protect government communications. To this day, a branch of the Navy continues to use the software for what’s called “open source” intelligence gathering.

A brief word about Internet service providers

While neither hardware nor software, ISPs are an incredibly-important part of keeping online data anonymous. That’s because most major ISPs track IP address assignments, and some may even log additional activity.

As a result, the length of time ISPs store user data is one of the most-important things to consider with an ISP. It makes sense. The longer logs are maintained, the less likely it is you can use the Internet privately.

If online anonymity is a concern, ISPs with short data retention policies are obviously preferable. I use, which serves all the connecting cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. It keeps logs no longer than two weeks — ranking one of the strongest privacy advocates in the country, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 2013 report on the topic.

Not every provider is so magnanimous, however. National providers such as Comcast and AT&T are among the worst. They often hold on to user logs for a year or more.

Storing files in the cloud with Dropbox and Digital Quick

Dropbox itself isn’t all that secure — at least it doesn’t encrypt files automatically. A simple add-on for Windows and mobile devices does. Digital Quick, which is free, builds file encryption and decryption right into Dropbox. Its feature-set also allows secure file sharing, that includes assigning different privilege levels to different users.

And, should someone — such as a hacker — obtain access to a Dropbox account, Digital Quick’s deft encryption ensures an additional layer of security.

Don’t use email

As recently reported by the media, Lavabit, the company reported to have stored many of Edward Snowden’s emails, has closed its doors. And many other secure email services, such as Silent Circle, are following suit.

The writing is on the wall — at least for Silent Circle. “There are far too many leaks of information and metadata intrinsically in the email protocols themselves,” the company asserts. “Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3 and IMAP cannot be secure.”

Never fear — for short communications there are many alternatives. Silent Circle offers several. Burn Note also offers an app-based, Mission Impossible-like system of self-destructing messages. So too does Cryptocat — an encrypted chat service.

Based in San Fransico, Max A. Cherney is a tech journalist. He contributes tech info and articles here at Email questions or tips to: