Limits to Anonymity on the Internet
If you’re reading about VPN services, it’s likely that one of the things you might be after is anonymity. In truth, anonymity is an unattainable goal on the Internet. Privacy, however, can be greatly increased by using a VPN service. Understanding why this is the case requires first understanding the differences between those two words.
Understanding the Goal
Anonymity would equate to nobody being able to tell who you are or where you’re coming from when you’re on the Internet. On the face of it, simply by applying a little bit of basic logic, one can see why this goal is unattainable.
Most of the services that we use online require some sort of a login. Even if you’re on an encrypted connection, if you are logged into your email account, your social media profiles and so forth, you are not anonymous. There are pieces of information about what you were doing at a given time that can be put together into a rather revealing picture. The idea of privacy is to make this harder to do, but nothing can make it impossible.
An easy way to understand it is to think about a social media site. If you go on a social media site, the social media site gathers information about when you login, what you posted, who you interacted with and so forth. It’s part of the service and something you consent to. What the privacy protection of the VPN does is not make you anonymous to that media site, but prevent anybody else from figuring out what you’re doing by looking at your traffic. The people you consent to interact with can still tell who you are, but people simply monitoring your Internet traffic cannot.
Why it Matters
Having privacy protection allows you to choose what information about you is revealed. For example, if you go to a site where you have no login credentials and no voluntarily submitted information that can be used to track you, any information that the site automatically generates about you for marketing or other purposes doesn’t really go back to your actual computer and you, if you are using a VPN. However, if you choose to, you can certainly log into a site and share whatever information you feel comfortable with. It’s really about choice, not being given a cloak of complete anonymity that allows you complete unaccountability for anything you do.
VPN services provide privacy protection. This is sometimes confused with anonymity, but it’s important to understand that not only is anonymity online impossible, it wouldn’t even be particularly useful, given that it would impair your ability to use most of the services that you rely upon.