This article was last updated on December 5, 2013.
The terms anonymous browsing and private browsing are often interchanged, but at their root they are really two very different things. As a whole, however, the idea of anonymous and private browsing encompasses a wide array of precautions that Web surfers can take to ensure that their activity cannot be traced. Motives for anonymous Web browsing are plenty, with both privacy and safety at the forefront of many Internet users' minds. Whatever the inspiration for browsing anonymously may be, the bottom line is that many people want to avoid leaving tracks behind.
Anonymous Browsing via Tor
An open source software routing system designed to provide anonymous communication on the Internet, Tor (The Onion Router) offers something quite close to true anonymity through numerous encryption layers. If the goal is to keep your Internet activity virtually untraceable, Tor may be exactly what you are looking for. For advanced users, Tor can be installed and configured at a command line level with no need for a graphical interface. However, for those looking to browse anonymously without a great deal of user configuration needed, the Tor Browser Bundle makes for an ideal partner. A basic browser that routes all of your browsing activity through the Tor network, this application does not need to be installed and can be run from your hard disk or portable device such as a USB drive. It should be noted that no anonymous browsing method, even Tor, is completely foolproof.
Proxy Servers for Anonymous Web Browsing
Anonymous Web browsing can involve utilizing proxy servers to function as virtual middle men for any requests made through your browser. While you may be blocked from accessing a website or other resource directly, perhaps by your employer or service provider, a proxy server could sidestep these limitations. By connecting to the proxy server first, which then in turn initiates a request to your desired destination, the possibility of accessing a restricted resource becomes a reality. Several proxies also offer the ability to mask your IP address and geolocation, allowing for an anonymous browsing experience.
While anonymous Web browsing can involve utilizing proxies, redirects, and other routing methods to prevent those in the outside world from viewing Web surfing activity, including rogue individuals as well as Internet Service Providers, sometimes the government is behind the need for anonymity. The folks at Pirate Bay, one of the Web's original torrent sites, created their own browser intended to allow for anonymous browsing in countries or regions where your browsing activity is restricted. PirateBrowser utilizes a combination of Firefox, the FoxyProxy add-on, and the popular Tor client Vidalia.
How to Activate Anonymous (Private) Web Browsing Mode
For many Web surfers, anonymous Web browsing involves clearing their tracks from others who may have access to the same computer or mobile device that they're currently using. Most popular Web browsers offer ways to browse anonymously, with no history or other private data such as cache or cookies left behind at the end of your browsing session. The methods for activating this type of anonymous Web browsing differ across browsers, operating systems, and device types. The following step-by-step tutorials teach you how to browse anonymously in the browser of your choice.
IE11 offers anonymous Web browsing in the form of its InPrivate Browsing mode, easily activated via the browser's Safety menu or through a simple keyboard shortcut. With InPrivate Browsing active, IE11 does not save any private data files such as cache and cookies. Browsing and search history are also wiped out while using anonymous Web browsing within Internet Explorer. This anonymous Web browsing tutorial steps you through the process.
Anonymous Web Browsing in Other Versions of IEAnonymous Web Browsing in IE10
Anonymous Web Browsing in IE9
Anonymous Web Browsing in IE8
In Google Chrome, anonymous Web browsing can be achieved through the magic of Incognito Mode. While surfing the Web incognito, your history and other private data are not saved on your hard drive. Entering anonymous Web browsing mode in Chrome is easy to do, and our Windows tutorial shows you how it's done.
Anonymous Web Browsing in Other Versions of Chrome
Anonymous Web browsing in Firefox involves utilizing Private Browsing mode, where sensitive items such as cookies and download history are never recorded locally. Activating Private Browsing is a simple process, and this anonymous Web browsing tutorial makes it even simpler for Windows users.
Anonymous Web browsing with Safari can be accomplished by entering Private Browsing mode via the Action menu. While in Private Browsing mode all private data including browsing history and AutoFill information is not kept, ensuring an anonymous Web browsing experience. This graphical tutorial explains how to use Private Browsing mode in Safari 5 for Windows.
Anonymous Web Browsing in Other Versions of Safari
Opera 18 allows you to enable anonymous Web browsing in your choice of a new tab or new window. Depending on your preference, the private tab or window can be accessed via the browser's Tabs and Windows menu or through a keyboard shortcut. Our anonymous Web browsing tutorial details privacy in Opera 18 and above for Windows and Mac.
Anonymous Web Browsing in Other Versions of Opera
While Maxthon Cloud Browser allows you to store some of your data remotely, providing the ability to do things like syncing your open tabs among several devices, it also saves URL history, cache, cookies, and other remnants of a browsing session on your local device. These items are utilized by Maxthon to improve the overall browsing experience by speeding up page loads and auto-populating Web forms, among other benefits. With these benefits comes some downside, however, depending on your perspective. If some of this potentially sensitive data were to end up in the wrong hands, it could pose obvious privacy and security risks. Maxthon Cloud Browser provides anonymous Web browsing via its Private Browsing mode.
Since its introduction in iOS 5, the Private Browsing feature in Safari has become one of its most popular. While activated, data items amassed during a private browsing session such as history, cache and cookies are permanently deleted as soon as the browser is closed. Private Browsing mode can be enabled in just a few easy steps, and this tutorial walks you through the process.