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Basics of privacy on the Internet

“On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog”. Old proverb supposed to show how anonymous you can be on the Internet. Let me say, it is no longer the case, and in fact, never was. Even as you are reading this, you may already feel familiar about how the Web works, it is always good to refresh your mind. By following advice here, you will not be truly anonymous, but at least keep your private life reasonably private.

Difficulty: easy

The first thing you may have done with your Internet connection, besides browsing, would be to open a free email account. Noticed how much they asked about you? Have you dutifully filled all the fields as you would on a government form? If yes, have you asked yourself who was behind the site? Would you trust a total stranger with all that personal information?

I would not. I don't even trust my own computer with personal data.

Yet if you decide not to give personal information to them, you are pretty much stuck, because you will not be able to use their otherwise great services they may have to offer, and same goes even if you do actually read the user agreement and don't agree to stated conditions. So one of the first things you need to get started on the Internet is to create yourself a fake identity, not any random identity, but a credible one that you'll be able to use and reuse, and ditch as needed.

  • Never give your real name anywhere on the Internet, unless justified (e.g., buying something on most commercial websites, using a real credit card, but even that can change - more on a subsequent post). Always use pseudonyms as much as possible. If the forms insist on you filling in a name and surname, use fakes. And no, Facebook is NOT a valid reason to leave your real name in plain view.
  • Never give your coordinates. Almost nobody on the Internet needs to know where you live and how to contact you. Avoid exposing your email address. An exception can be the cell phone number, sometimes used as a two-factor authentication in case you lose your password. But inquire about alternative methods before giving it.
  • Never trust any service “in the cloud” with any sort of document containing personal information. Don't store your résumé online, never use such service for corporate communications (a few exceptions apply).
  • Respect other people's privacy. Don't use their real names even if you know them.
  • Same applies if you are communicating through so-called private channels. Even if you are sure there is only one person on the other side, you still don't know that person. Of course, exceptions apply, chiefly if you use Cryptocat for chatting with the other person.
  • Use logic! Ask yourself: “do they need to know that in order to provide me with their service?” Most of the time, the answer will be NO!

Create a fake ID for the Internet

First method: manually

You can surely create a fake profile by hand, filling the forms with whatever comes to your mind, as long as you are able to record the answers somewhere in a text file. This is time-consuming, but enough for most purpose.

Second method: using a generator

There are a few generators out there, and one well known is simply Fake Name Generator. Simply select an age range, sex, and geographical origin you want to get a profile from. Click ”Generate“ until you get an identity that suits you, then write down all this, or better yet, print the page. Use the data provided to fill in the forms. Change IDs as often as you deem necessary.

Usage of your real email address

In general, it should be limited to those few situations you expect to receive more than one justifiable email from a given service provider. For example, subscribing to a forum will probably requires a permanent email address, at least in case you forget your password (happens all the time), or just want to know when an interesting topic got a reply. On the other hand, subscribing on, say, a porn site just to see what they have to offer doesn't require a real or permanent address. The reason is such websites usually collect tons of email addresses, and when they close, or even when they don't, they will resell the list to unscrupulous marketers, and shortly after, you will start to receive tens of spams a day.

Some services like Craigslist, the well-known classified ad hosting company, use their internal proxy email system. Unless you explicitly state so, your real email address won't be displayed, and all communications with buyers and sellers will be anonymized through a random, but working email addresses. That won't prevent you from receiving scam attempts, though.

I am simplifying, but you should get the point. 

Fake Name Generator can also give you temporary email address, and many others can give you a free, but permanent redirector so as to keep your true address private, or simply, as LifeHacker states, "keep your Internet life and private life separate". That's all Internet privacy is about.



And for the truly paranoid, how to disappear both AFK and on the Net:

How to ditch Big Brother and disappear forever