Mastering Online Privacy: A Professional Guide to Achieving Anonymity on the Internet The internet wouldn’t function if the devices were unable to identify one another. When the server cannot recognize the client, no connection can be established, no website can be loaded, and no online service can start. An IP address accomplishes this function.

It’s a special string of numbers and letters tied to a specific internet service provider (ISP), location, and device. While it’s essential for the functioning of the Internet, you won’t stay anonymous by providing it to anyone who wants it. Hiding your IP is the first step to mastering online privacy.

Changing Your IP Address

Once you set up an internet connection in a new home, your ISP assigns an IP address unique to that location. You can only change such residential IP address by moving to a new home or, in some cases, switching to a new ISP. 

Such an option of changing your IP address is ineffective for anonymity. All data requests you send are still associated with your physical location, which can be used to identify and track your activity. ISP, government, or even your network administrator can know what you download or what websites you visit.

What’s worse, these actors can impose various restrictions based on your IP address. Some websites, for example, show different pricing data based on the location of the visitor’s IP address.

Such geo-restrictions can even be used to censor information that the government doesn’t want you to know. The only way to counteract this is to change your IP address without actually changing your location.

Residential Proxies

Proxies act as intermediaries between the client and the web server. They can receive requests from other devices and forward them to servers hosting websites or other online services. Using a proxy ensures your IP address isn’t visible to the target server. They only see the IP of the proxy you are using.

Proxies ensure a great level of anonymity, as it is more difficult for servers to track your activity or impose geo-restrictions. You can choose the country or, in some cases, even a city your proxy is located in to appear as if you are connecting from there.

Location is not the only thing important for achieving anonymity – your proxy IP also must be legitimate. Most cheaper proxies use IP addresses from data centers. These are large facilities using commercial-tier internet to run servers that house websites, store data, and perform other online tasks. 

Datacenter IP addresses are cheap as their connection isn’t verified by the ISP, and they are created virtually in bulk. The problem is that such IPs are also similar to one another and can be easily recognized as proxies by web servers. That’s why they frequently restrict or even ban them.

The best way to ensure your privacy is to get hold of a proxy server with a residential IP address. Each residential proxy runs on a different physical device that uses a household internet provider. As with any other IP address, they verify the proxy IP address to be used as a proxy.

It effectively means you can blend in with the rest of the visitors quite easily. Unlike with a datacenter IP address, the web server will have a difficult time differentiating you from the rest of the internet traffic.

Residential Proxies vs VPNs

Most users seeking privacy tend to choose virtual private networks (VPN). Similarly to proxies, they can forward requests by creating an encrypted “tunnel” hiding your online activity. They are more popular for two main reasons.

The first, and perhaps the main one, is the convenience. VPNs are more user-friendly as they come with already pre-set software that takes only a click of a button to use. Proxies are usually a bit harder to set up, but that also means they can be used for more purposes. If you are tech-savvy enough.

Another major reason for the popularity of VPNs is that they encrypt data, and providers claim to have a “no logs” policy. Providers encrypt the data on a VPN, and your device is the only one with the key. The VPN providers themselves claim to not keep any records. 

While, in general, such claims seem to hold, there are known cases when VPN providers gave away data about their customers to governments or unintentionally leaked to the dark web. With a proxy, you’ll have more freedom to tinker and can set up encryption on a similar level to a VPN.

In general, VPNs and proxies are used for different purposes. Proxies are better for advanced users who perform demanding tasks, such as web scraping or online automation. VPNs, on the other hand, are better suited for those who want more convenience but are not afraid to rely on a VPN provider.

My preference is to use residential proxies, as VPNs aren’t compatible with most software for collecting data or automating social media accounts. Besides, it isn’t that hard to set them up for daily anonymous browsing as well.

Anonymous Browsing with a Residential Proxy

Once you purchase a proxy, you will get your proxy credentials. In most cases, this is the proxy IP address and port number. They can be used to run various programs through the proxy server connection. Operating systems, can also be set up to work entirely through the proxy connection using these credentials.

For anonymous browsing, it’s easiest to set up it in your browser settings or use a proxy manager extension. One such extension is the Proxy Switcher and Manager. It will allow you to not only browse anonymously but easily switch between different proxies for different tasks.

To master online privacy is to understand how your IP address is used to track you and how to change it. While tools like VPNs are more convenient, residential proxies can help achieve various tasks while allowing you to protect your data while doing something as simple as web browsing.

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