Free Anonymous Web Browsing
Much has been written about the perils of browsing the Internet. This includes great concern about privacy, but most people don't know what to do about such concerns. Or possibly, these people are unwilling to pay for software to protect their privacy. I fall in the middle somewhere.
I've read many articles on the steps necessary to browse the web anonymously, but I've never felt the process was easy enough to warrant taking the recommended steps. And companies like Anonymizer.com that offer a relatively simple solution charge a fee that I'm unwilling to pay. It helps that I don't think I'm doing anything on the Internet that particularly warrants privacy protection.
Still, knowing that my internet service provider (ISP) is able to track every site I visit bothers me as much on principle as anything else. And with the increasing use of enterprise-wide logins/cookies such as those in use by services from Google, Yahoo, and MSN I'm more inclined to want to anonymize my web activities when moving from website to website.
Fortunately, some developers have taken on the challenge of bringing anonymous web browsing to the masses including the lazy ones like me! Here are details of my latest discoveries:
For quick one-offs, use the Tor-Proxy.net add-on for Firefox. This toolbar allows you to use a special input box to access a website. The URL request is routed through the Tor network for instant anonymity. The main drawbacks with this method is that it is very, very slow. Advantages include being able to have one Firefox tab open using anonymous access while having other tabs open with "regular" access.
For extended anonymous sessions, I recommend downloading Portable Tor which bundles Vidalia, a front-end to the Tor network that includes several handy options via a user-friendly interface, and Privoxy, a personal proxy server that, among other things, can strip referrer data from your web browser so sites can't tell where you came from.
Once Vidalia is running, download the Foxtor Firefox add-on. This add-on adds what amounts to an on-off switch to the bottom of the Firefox browser. When turned on, your web browser's settings are automatically reconfigured to connect through Vidalia which in turns manages your connection through the Tor network. When you're done, turn off Foxtor and all will be returned to normal. The main disadvantage with this set up is that when I switch to an anonymous session, my Delicious bookmark add-on displays multiple pop-up windows informing me that I've logged out. These are annoying, but not so much that the whole set up becomes unusable.
I highly recommend both solutions for those interested in shielding their online activites from ISPs. I believe these might also hide web use from the corporate IT department, but I haven't verified this belief. Should you try either of these solutions, be sure to double-check that everything is working correctly via an online IP checker. Your IP should be different with anonymous browsing turned on and off.