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How to surf anonymously without a trace

Several ways to protect yourself from the feds and others

March 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The punchline to an old cartoon is "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog," but these days, that's no longer true.

It's easier than ever for the government, Web sites and private businesses to track exactly what you do online, know where you've visited, and build up comprehensive profiles about your likes, dislikes and private habits.

And with the federal government increasingly demanding online records from sites such as Google and others, your online privacy is even more endangered.

But you don't need to be a victim. There are things you can do to keep your surfing habits anonymous and protect your online privacy. So read on to find out how to keep your privacy to yourself when you use the Internet, without spending a penny.

What they know about you

Whenever you surf the Web, you leave yourself open to being snooped upon by Web sites. They can track your online travels, know what operating system and browser you're running, find out your machine name, uncover the last sites you've visited, examine your history list, delve into your cache, examine your IP address and use that to learn basic information about you such as your geographic location and more. To a great extent, your Internet life is an open book when you visit.

Sites use a variety of techniques to gather and collate this information, but the two most basic are examining your IP address and placing cookies on your PC. Matching your IP address with your cookies makes it easier for them to create personal profiles.

If you'd like to see what kind of information sites can gather about you, head to these two sites, which peer into your browser and report what they find.


  • Privacy Analysis of Your Internet Connection gathers and displays basic information, such as your operating system, screen resolution, what site you previously visited, general system setup and so on.

  • BrowserSpy delves even deeper into your system and even reports on whether you have certain software on your system, such as RealPlayer and Adobe Acrobat, including version information.

Privacy Analysis of Your Internet Connection
Here's some of the information Web sites can find out about you, as reported by the Privacy Analysis of Your Internet Connection site.
(Click image to see larger view.)



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