Can You Ever Be Truly Invisible Online?

Can You Ever Be Truly Invisible Online

Table of Contents

We’ve entered an age where savvy internet users no longer dismiss the impact of their online presence. Every online action or interaction generates a surprising amount of data. Some of that data is specific and private enough for people to try and target or exploit you.

The wish to become invisible is a natural response – and a prudent one! Sadly, there’s no way to remain completely invisible on the internet other than not interact with it. Ever.

Why is that? What can you do to maximize your anonymity and privacy even if you can’t be completely untraceable?

That’s what this article is all about.

Why Is Complete Online Invisibility Impossible?

Multiple factors contribute to the extreme difficulty of achieving true online invisibility, and we’ll discuss the major ones now. In short, though, the very nature of the modern internet opposes such efforts.

Infrastructure

The internet is a complex web of interconnected devices that can communicate and share data. Facilitating it involves specialized network equipment, connection protocols, and service providers responsible for building and maintaining supporting infrastructure.

Whether you connect via Ethernet, phone network, or satellite, you can’t access the internet without going through an ISP. Each device gets an IP address the provider may use to track internet activity.

It’s possible to hide specific activities if you use a VPN. Still, the ISP can use metadata and DNS requests to come to informed conclusions about the nature of your browsing.

Moreover, ISPs have obligations to aid law enforcement investigations and may hand over data on your browsing history. Worse yet, some ISPs sell their users’ data for extra profit. There’s not much you can do about all this other than choose a responsible provider.

Browser Security

There’s an app out there for almost anything internet-related. Still, accessing email, social media, online shops, and other services through a browser remains popular.

Browsers occupy the entire spectrum, ranging from those that take anonymity seriously to ones that collect vast amounts of data on users’ every move.

To be fair, their intent isn’t nefarious or illegal. Browsers that don’t advocate privacy use cookies and other means to track your online activity and help advertisers choose the ads they feel you’re most likely to engage with.

Such methods don’t necessarily reveal private information about you. However, they can infer much about someone’s religious or gender preferences, political views, and other information you may not want others to have.

Even though third-party cookies will no longer be a problem once Google phases them out completely, there are still ways of identifying you without them. For example, browser fingerprinting uses a combination of your browser & OS versions, hardware profile, and other markers to create your device’s unique identity.

Account Security

Almost anything other than browsing requires an account. Some might be anonymous, but account creation asks for your real name, address, and financial information. You might get away with fake details for some, but need to supply the correct ones when shopping, interacting with government agencies, etc.

Passwords are often the only security such accounts have. They work well in principle, especially if you have an elaborate and unique one for each.

People usually don’t, settling for common passwords or reusing them instead. Not only does this make accounts easy to hack, but one data breach could affect multiple accounts with the same or similar credentials.

Password managers backed by two-factor authentication are a popular tool to mitigate this risk. Some websites have also started using passkeys instead. These are more secure due to encryption.

They use sets of public and private keys, removing the need for conventional passwords. Data breaches only expose the public key, which is useless without the private pair. Conversely, users can’t become phishing victims since there are no credentials to give out accidentally.

App Behavior

Let’s not forget the multitude of apps you probably use. They can be problematic on several levels. On the one hand, they may behave strangely. An app might request more permissions than it needs to function. Or it might ask for feedback/offer surveys with questions that reveal a lot about you.

On the other, much is out of your control when it comes to app privacy. If there’s a chat, it might not have encryption. Moreover, the developers might not have high data protection standards and could easily fall victim to a breach.

Depending on how detailed your account and usage history are, this could expose a lot of sensitive info about you.

Your Digital Footprint

We’ve mostly touched on external factors so far. But, each individual is ultimately responsible for a large chunk of personal data available about them. Social media has conditioned us to share information freely and indiscriminately. Such information is a commodity others are exploiting.

Some, like data brokers, have neutral intentions and are in it for the money. They’ll collect all they can on you, lump you into a category with other 20-somethings interested in travel & pets, and sell that information to advertisers who use this buyer persona to appeal to your interests.

Other actors aren’t as benevolent. A careless public remark you made five years ago or a picture of your front yard could be enough to find your real location, assess your income, and profile you as a potential target for both digital and physical theft.

Some companies specialize in deleting publicly available online information about you, meaning that you can remove your personal information from the Internet.

However, the problem won’t go away unless you set your social media to private and become careful about what you say online. Most people aren’t ready to go that far, but eliminating social media will do wonders for your anonymity.

Conclusion

True online invisibility remains elusive. Citizens and governments are embracing privacy and the right to be forgotten though, so the future might not be bleak.

You might not be completely invisible for now, but slipping through many cracks undetected is still possible with the right attitude, foresight, and precautions.

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Umesh Singh
Umesh Singh
Umesh is blogger by heart and digital marketer by profession. He helps small companies to grow their revenue as well as online presence.
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