In light of the recent news about Facebook’s numerous privacy issues, I got to thinking, “Is it even possible to be anonymous online anymore?”
I think it is, but that would require dialing back a lot of your social media use, and so you would have to take that into consideration. What brought this to mind, in part, was the article It’s Time To Think: How Many Whistleblowers Do We Really Need? on Fossbytes, by Aditya Tiwari.
One of the points that Tiwari made is that we often install apps without giving much thought as to what data the app may be collecting in the background. Granted, we do allow apps “permission” to access certain things on our devices when we install them, but how many people really pay attention to that?
I have an internet friend who says he doesn’t use social media in general, and he is, for the most part, anonymous online. He’s one of the people who introduced me to things like Maltego, which I mentioned on Beware, Maltego Will Find You!
If you didn’t read that post, to sum up, one of the things that Maltego does is collect publicly available information about you on the internet, and put it together into a nice graph. It also shows the various links and connections between these bits of information.
My friend had said that, when he did a report on himself, only information that he wanted to be available was found. The same was not true of me, although since then, I have taken down quite a few profiles, email accounts, and other bits of info that I didn’t want online.
Still, unlike my friend, I do use social media, partly because, as a writer (even one who writes about the dark web), that’s important. In fact, I know of other authors who write about this subject and also use the same tools.
The Fossbytes article made this important point about large companies like Google, however:
Google possibly has the largest collection of user data than any other company. Because why not? It has more presence in our lives. Google has some contribution in almost everything we do on the internet. In fact, many people open Google to check if their internet is working or not.
I think that, if you want to be “anonymous,” or at least have less information about yourself out there, you would have to become acutely aware of what services you’re using, and how you’re using them (I include myself in this).
For instance, start using DuckDuckGo or StartPage rather than Google for your searches, or use open source alternatives to your favorite apps. One place you can find some of these open source apps is on F-Droid (if you have an Android phone, that is). The downside to this, of course, is that the alternatives may or may not work as well as their closed-source counterparts.
Still, this could mean that you (or anyone else who’s interested) has the chance to help improve these decentralized apps. Think of it as a grassroots movement.
To really take it all the way, you would probably have to create some fake identities for yourself (and this is one of things I’ve found difficult so far), as well as separate IP addresses for those identities – Tor might help with that. I did come across a site called Fake Person Generator that can assist with the identity creation process as well. It lists such things as names, birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, height, weight, and even passport numbers. You would have to actively use them to make them appear real, of course.
So yes, to answer the question, it is possible to be anonymous online, but challenging, especially if you’re accustomed to using products like those of Google or Apple on a daily basis.
Hmm…I would really miss saying “OK Google.”