In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, leaked classified details containing the extensive surveillance and spy activities conducted by the U.S. government through the NSA. His revelations indicated that the NSA was collecting phone records of millions of Americans, had unlimited access to the major email service providers such as Yahoo and Gmail, and also had direct access to Facebook, Skype, Apples, and YouTube servers, all of which handle millions of users worldwide.
The revelations sparked a global outrage. In the post-Snowden era, millions of internet users are more aware of the possibility that their traffic may be monitored at any given point in time with little or no oversight and regulation. Even corporates collect billions of user metadata from internet traffic to predict user behavior patterns, lifestyle choices, and other statistics. Unfortunately, some of these practices are unregulated and collect an overwhelming amount of private data.
Internet Anonymity and Privacy Tools
Internet users are now rebelling against tracking and snooping by adopting privacy tools and plugins that block ads. Private search engines such as DuckDuckGo and anonymous browsers insulate against intruders who steal data and compromise on users’ online anonymity. The four major search engines, Google, Yahoo, Bing, Chrome and Safari, all have an in-built feature that enables users to browse the web privately.
DoNotTrackMe, for instance, is a browser plugin available for the four browsers, which prevents ads and social networks as well as notorious data collection companies from tracking you across the sites you visit. Adblock Plus is another popular browser plugin that works in a similar fashion as DoNotTrackMe, but focusing chiefly on ads.
Cryptography is, undeniably, one of the few proven and trusted mechanisms for enforcing internet anonymity. Today cryptography is no longer a mere branch of computer science, but a mainstream concept. Virtual Private Networks ride on cryptography. They create a barrier between the tracking and monitoring agencies, and the users who use to maintain their internet anonymity.
The Onion Router (Tor), which is founded on cryptography, makes monitoring, eavesdropping and snooping almost impossible. Tor masks user IPs and bounces off traffic through multiple relays spread across the globe. Using cryptography to hide in the network makes it even difficult to uncover a communication’s source.
The Future of Privacy and Internet Anonymity
To promote privacy and internet anonymity, search engines, browsers and other web services may result to embedding encryption and security into their services. For instance, Tor users may be familiar with Disconnect.me, the network’s choice of search engine, which was designed by former Google engineers. The browser is now available to mainstream internet users as a browser plugin. Working like a VPN, Disconnect.me blocks requests from web analytics companies, preventing them from tracking your activities on the internet.
Such significant steps in the battle for privacy and internet anonymity are bound lock horns with corporate giants, marketing and advertising firms. What is certain, though, is that the battleground will expand exponentially as people gradually become aware of the massive privacy violations conducted on the internet. User behavior on the internet will also change significantly, and people will put privacy needs before user experience and interactivity.