Every device that connects to the internet is assigned an IP address. You can think of your IP address as being like an online license plate. Just as a license plate is tied to a specific vehicle, an IP address is tied to a particular router. In practice, this means that most properties have a single IP address as there are rarely multiple routers in a single internet-connected property. While every individual device has its own IP address, these are rarely seen by the wider internet. Most websites and online services are only interested in the IP address of your router, which is shared by devices.
While hiding your IP address is easy enough, maintaining online privacy is becoming very difficult, especially when activities such as web scraping can be easily monetized. In order to stay anonymous, it might be time to consider some more radical proposals.
IP Addresses And Privacy
IP addresses are necessary in order for the internet to properly function. It isn’t feasible to stop assigning IP addresses to both devices and individual routers as part of the process of connecting to the internet. However, the insidious tracking of individual users and the use of that data in fingerprinting to build individual profiles is not essential to the proper functioning of the internet.
Fingerprinting means that even the most common steps that people take to hide their IP addresses, including the ones that we will come onto shortly, aren’t enough to prevent them from being profiled and tracked.
VPNs And Proxies
By connecting to a VPN or proxy server prior to connecting to the internet, a device can easily disguise its connection of origin. Instead of seeing the IP address of the users’ router, they will see the IP address of the data center (VPN) or proxy server. This also means that multiple users will share and reuse IP addresses.
However, these measures are relatively easy to defeat owing to the sheer volume of data about each of us that is out there. This doesn’t just include the data that we willingly give up to websites and online services. It also includes the large amount of data that is gathered about our individual devices and internet connections whenever we go online. Unless the user takes specific steps to prevent personal information from being exchanged with online servers, this information will be exchanged regardless of VPNs or proxies.
Peer To Peer IP Sharing
If we want to maintain some semblance of online anonymity, or at least the option to be anonymous if we choose, then we are going to need to start considering more radical solutions to our problems. At this point, it seems hopeless to even try preventing data from being gathered about us on an industrial scale. The best we can hope to do is to obscure that data, make it so fuzzy that it becomes unreliable.
This can be achieved by the creation of a P2P IP sharing protocol. This would create a network of devices that would connect to one another before connecting to the internet. This would ensure that no one’s IP address would match up with their real identity. Using P2P IP sharing, we can have anonymity until we choose to login to a website or service and reveal our identities.
In fact, services like Packet Stream are already offering a P2P proxy network and are even paying users for the bandwidth that they are able to give. Packet Stream also sells bandwidth on the network to users who want to take advantage of residential IP addresses from around the world.
While this is an encouraging development, it is not ideal to be relying on commercial networks to deliver this kind of anonymity. Creating an open P2P network where users willingly shared their bandwidth freely with one another in the interest of better anonymity for everyone would enable us all to enjoy the benefits freely.
Of course, getting such an initiative off the ground wouldn’t be easy. For one thing, there would need to be a reasonable number of users before the service would be able to offer the kind of anonymity we are striving for.
This is the principle that underpins the TOR network. If or when TOR achieves better penetration on mobile devices, it will be able to deliver unprecedented anonymity through a potentially enormous proxy network.
Anyone who is serious about maintaining their anonymity when browsing the internet should seriously consider downloading TOR. Right now, TOR is the closest thing we have to the P2P proxy network we have described above. It is also worth investigating the privacy-focused OS Tails. For those who are determined to maintain their online anonymity, the steps you need to take are worth it. However, if you are only going to do one thing to improve your anonymity then TOR is a great place to start.