If I Hide My IP, Will That Prevent My Browser From Tracking Me?by Avery Martin
Internet marketing techniques for tracking online activity stretch beyond basic IP tracking. However, masking your IP address does block websites from knowing your real geographical location. Your browser translates data sent by websites into readable information, and part of this process involves providing the websites you visit with information about your computer and browser.
Browsers don't generally track you online. The websites you visit track you and obtain information about you, such as your IP address that identifies your general location. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari all provide Do Not Track options within their preferences; however, you can't know for sure whether a website or advertiser will honor the DNT request. While IP hiding isn't necessary for websites that honor DNT requests, if a website doesn't honor it, hiding your IP provides you with additional protection, and prevents the website from knowing your general location.
Browsers provide a slew of information to help identify you on the Web, including any installed plugins you may have, your screen resolution, available fonts, color depth, time zone and even whether you have cookies enabled. One way to increase your security while surfing online involves using a default Web browser with no add-ons or customized settings. This prevents websites from identifying you based solely on the add-ons, browser settings and system configuration. However, given that no two computers have the exact same configuration, completely preventing such browser fingerprinting generally requires the use of a specialized anonymous browser.
Proxies hide your IP address when you access the Internet by routing your IP through another computer online. Not all proxy servers provide true anonymity, however, as some include your actual IP in the header information. International proxy servers provide additional security, because their logs need additional work to acquire. Anonymous proxies protect your IP address without sending any identifying information in the headers. Anonymouse.org, Zend2 and the TOR network all provide methods of using anonymous proxies.
Virtual Private Networks encrypt all of your network traffic, and generally provide more security than a proxy server. Since a VPN uses an encrypted connection, in many cases the provider only has access to the time you spent online, and can't access specific website activity. VPNs protect your identity by sending all outgoing data through a secure tunnel. Hotspot Shield, StrongVPN and TunnelBear all provide VPN services. StrongVPN requires a subscription fee, while TunnelBear and Hotspot Shield have free and paid options.
Browsers provide so-called "user agent" information to websites you visit, so that those websites know how to display information for your specific browser. User agent data includes information about the browser you're using, your operating system, and a referral URL that tells the website the last site you've visited. The only information not available from your browser is the actual IP address of your computer, so hiding your IP address doesn't block the identity of your browser.
- EFF: Is Every Browser Unique? Results From the Panopticlick Experiment
- AnonymityNetwork: VPN vs. Proxy
- DoNotTrack.us: Universal Web Tracking Opt Out
- AnonymityNetwork: VPN Vs Proxy
- Microsoft: Do Not Track Test Page
- ZDNet: Why Do Not Track Is Worse Than a Miserable Failure
- Panopticlick: How Unique -- and Trackable -- Is Your Browser?
- WhatsMyUserAgent: What's a User Agent?
- Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images