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Anonymity and the Internet

written by: •edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 2/16/2012

If you’ve ever wondered why some internet users prefer to remain anonymous while using the internet, here are your answers.

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    Anonymity used on the internet can be a good or bad thing depending on the intent of the user. Using an anonymous identity online has legitimate uses. It can help promote freedom of expression with writers and journalists. It can help protect human rights and persons reporting illegal activities, persons seeking help for problems like AIDs, harassment, racial issues, alcohol, gambling or drug abuse. It can help when searching for information about sexually transmitted diseases or personal gender issues or any other issue affected by social intolerance without the fear of being identified, censured, ridiculed, discriminated against, the target of a lawsuit, the loss of a job or physically harmed.

    Anonymity is not unique to the internet. We can allow ourselves to appear anonymous through an anonymous phone call or an unsigned letter. With electronic communications there are two kinds of anonymity: true anonymity and pseudo-anonymity. Pseudo-anonymity is traceable if you know how to discover the origin. True anonymity is untraceable.

    Pseudo-anonymity allows users to express opinions and beliefs without fear of retaliation but it can force them to accept responsibility for their words and actions should their identity be found. With true anonymity, the only way to identify the person is through coincidence, personal bragging or exposure. True anonymity online has the greater potential for cybercrime because the originator can’t be held responsible for their words or actions.

    You can find more information about services for online anonymity at The Free Country.com http://www.thefreecountry.com/security/anonymous.shtml. Online services that offer anonymity are available at http://www.anonymizer.com http://www.anonymouse.org, http://www.freenet.com, and http://www.torproject.org. Both Anonymizer (a fee service) and Anonymouse (a free service) mask your computer's IP address. Although it may not seem like you are giving very much information, when you browse the Internet you are relaying information to websites that could be traced back to you. Your browser typically provides your IP address and internet surfing history to websites that collect your information. Not all websites collect information. This information collected by itself is not personally identifiable. Most browsers have settings that can be adjusted by the user so you have control of how much information about online activities is kept and stored. Remember to install the most recent security updates for your operating system and all installed programs including your browser. You can visit Network-Tools.com to get an idea what information can be collected while you are online.