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Online Anonymity – Is it Boon Or Bane?


Many people might choose to have a vague identity and become more or less anonymous in normal life. They, too, try to get along with the same level of privacy on the internet. Despite the borrowing of other user’s accounts or by forging identities of some internet users, one of the most common and least complicated ways of obtaining anonymity on the internet is by making use of one of the many anonymity services. Using such free or commercial online anonymous proxy utility service provides a level of personal freedom, privacy and security on the internet.

Some of the services are connected directly to specific newsgroups on the usenet(a branch of the internet) while other anonymity providers are global and service the entire internet and utilize “remailers” or computers on the internet that forward electronic mail or files to other network addresses. Before the remailer forwards the information, it strips the header from the original email so that the information showing the origin of the message is no longer attached to the email. Several anonymity services replace the header with anonymous addresses like nobody[at]nowhere which makes the recipient clueless about the sender and its origin. Hence, the anonymous message is delivered.

Generally, almost every website an Internet user visits gathers personal information and logs activities of both the sender and recipient. Advertising networks, for instance, track a user’s internet usage across thousands of different websites at a time. These websites will use the information they gathered by sending unsolicited ads and promotional offers. Further, some resume websites will take the personal information they have obtained and resell it.

How is collecting information done? There are many different technologies a website can use to track and collect information. Cookie is the first and probably the best known technology. The moment you visit a website, a small piece of data called cookie is placed in your computer. The computer then returns the data every time you go back to that website.

IP address is the second and a more complicated method of tracking Internet user’s activities. An IP address works something like your computer’s phone number. In a broadband connection it is usually static, which means it never changes, or changes less frequently, if ever. Any computer a user is connecting across the Internet can see such address which allows them to see the user’s location, the kind of computer and the ISP he or she is using. Because data storage is becoming cheaper and cheaper each day, the data these people have gathered stay in their databases in many years, which they can use over and over again for whatever purpose they may see fit.

Anonymity simply means surfing the Internet without disclosing one’s personal identity such as name and financial information. It is made possible by anonymous service providers by re-routing each and every website request to a proxy server that the service provider has installed at a remote location. Thus, the website one wants to visit will interpret the request as coming from another IP address.

A lot of people say that online anonymity is something that crooks, stalkers, and pedophiles will want to use and keep. They point out that only those who have something to hide will want to stay anonymous. It may be true, but if someone becomes a victim of credit fraud, for example, anonymous surfing may be the only solution not to fall prey to those unscrupulous criminals again.


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