Keeping Your Site Visits Private with Anonymouse

Bob Leggitt | Saturday, 13 August 2011 |

PLEASE SEE THE UPDATE AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE

Anonymouse hides your IP address from the sites you visit. In fact, you may be quite surprised at how much information the sites you visit can gather just from your visit alone. Without Anonymouse, as soon as you land on a site, it can read information such as your IP address, the name of your service provider, where you are in the world, and the browser you’re using – all without you clicking on a single thing.

The BBC News homepage as visited via Anonymouse. The ad banner across the screen is a feature of the free incarnation of Anonymouse. A banner is served with every page change. It's easy enough to close them when they appear, but they're too much of
an annoyance for anything more than the odd site visit, now and then.


Anonymouse is able to stop sites from reading the aforementioned details, by acting as a proxy and mediating between you and your target domain. The site you visit will see Anonymouse’s details rather than yours. Of course, the drawback is that Anonymouse will see your details and will know which sites you’re visiting. In broad terms that’s no more private than going direct to a site, and if you’re using Anonymouse for free, it will slow down your experience significantly, placing its own annoying ad popups on each new page. However, there may be sites you mistrust, or for other reasons do not want to be aware of your visits. It’s useful to have Anonymouse available for those instances. It does work, and it is free.

To cut down on hassle, you can bookmark a site as accessed through Anonymouse. Simply go to Anonymouse, enter the URL of the site you want to visit, let Anonymouse take you there, then bookmark the page. From that point forward, every time you visit via that bookmark, the site will see Anonymouse’s details and not yours. Any link you click after using the bookmark will also be ‘Anonymoused’, even if it takes you to a completely different site.

However, sites do not like you visiting via Anonymouse, and if you’re going to use them as a participating member, it’s highly likely they’ll force you to go direct and reveal your IP address. You won’t be able to register with, or post on forums using Anonymouse, for example. You’ll also probably find it impossible to use the major social networking sites via Anonymouse – even just to read them as a non-member. Twitter just serves you a blank page, for instance. Sometimes Google will block your searches if you’re trying to do them via Anonymouse – but not always. I think it depends how many other people are also trying to search via Anonymouse at the same time. Since all the requests come from the same IP address (Anonymouse’s), Google thinks it’s a potentially malicious bot and serves a captcha safeguard, which then fails – presumably because Google isn’t communicating directly with your computer.

Cookies issued by any site you visit will be placed on Anonymouse’s system and not yours. This in itself limits the number of things you can do via the proxy. Any service or function which requires you to have cookies enabled will fail when you use Anonymouse.

I do use Anonymouse to visit a couple of sites, but it would be impractical as well as unnecessary (and in some cases impossible) to use for all site visits. Just to be clear, this is not like ‘in-private browsing’, or any other method of concealing where you’ve been at your end of the connection. In other words, if, for example, you want to visit adult sites without the knowledge of your spouse, Anonymouse will not help. The URLs you visit still contain the name of your target site, so nothing is hidden on your own computer unless you take additional steps to hide it. All Anonymouse hides is your IP and browser-related details, and it only hides them from the site(s) you’re visiting - not your family.

In all, though, it's a useful tool. There are just some people on the web you can't help being suspicious of. If they have websites which you want or need to visit, Anonymouse is a great way to avoid giving them your IP address.

Planet Botch has no affiliation with Anonymouse and the above is based entirely on personal experience.

UPDATE

Since writing this article I have upgraded to Mozilla Firefox 6, and this has changed my assessment of Anonymouse. With other browsing systems the above remains valid. However, using the Firefox 6 browser, with the free Adblock Plus add-on installed, the free incarnation of Anonymouse does not (at the time of writing) interrupt browsing with ad popups. It remains to be seen whether Anonymouse will combat this 'loophole' with an update to their ad-serving system, but for now, using Firefox 6 in conjunction with Adblock Plus, you can get uninterrupted anonymous browsing for free, with Anonymouse. This sets the utility into a much more positive light, but doesn't change the cookie-related issues which prevent the use of Anonymouse with more interactive facets of the web.

UPDATE: November 2015... A wide array of sites I've used since writing this post are now rejecting Anonymouse - in some cases due to the increasing push towards secure browsing. Anonymouse does not support https, so sites such as WordPress cannot be viewed via the utility. My favoured current option is to use the Tor browser, which will access https sites, and also preserves some JavaScript functionality - increasingly critical as more sites across the Web become JavaScript dependent.

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