Online privacy is a hot topic, with even world leaders weighing in on the subject. Many of the big-name websites and companies will track your activities to deliver targeted advertising, and can build up an astonishingly detailed profile including your interests, spending habits, age, location and more.
If you would prefer to keep your personal details private, a VPN or proxy tool will help. See our guide to setting up and maintaining a VPN.
As well as preventing third parties building up a profile of you, the best free privacy software can open up the web, granting you access to sites blocked in your country, to access region-locked content when you're travelling away from home, and to add a layer of protection when you use a public Wi-Fi network.
1. Tor Browser
The super-secure Tor Browser is the cornerstone of any privacy toolkit
Tor Browser is probably the best-known anonymous browsing tool out there, and it is described as a 'censorship circumvention tool'.
Tor Browser has a vast following in the online privacy and security communities. It works by bouncing your communication through numerous encrypted node on the internet, making it impossible to determine your location or other identifying information.
Tor Browser employs complex technology, but is refreshingly accessible. It's based on the same code as Firefox, and guides you through the process of getting online one step at a time.
It uses different connection methods depending on what you're trying to achieve, but there's no need to understand the details because it's all taken care of for you. This combination of effective protection and ease of use makes Tor Browser the best free privacy software you can download today.
Review and where to download: Tor Browser
If you're a more advanced user, Privoxy gives you total control over your privacy
Privoxy is a web proxy tool that's available not only for Mac, Windows and Linux, but also Android and iOS. It is a tremendously powerful tool, but you'll need to invest a little time and effort to get it up and running.
Privoxy can be used in conjunction with just about any web browser, which is a big bonus; simply set the browser to run its traffic through the tool.
However, one of Privoxy's key features could also be a drawback for new users: it gives you very granular control over privacy settings, and configuring them is very much a manual process. There's a helpful quick start guide available, but it has the potential to be off-putting.
That said, if you're happy to persevere, this free privacy software lets you set up advanced filters that will not only ensure you remain anonymous online, but also protect you against unwanted ads.
Download here: Privoxy
3. Hotspot Shield
Free privacy software that protects your identity by hiding your IP address from prying eyes
Hotspot Shield is available in two flavors: a free, ad-supported one, and a paid-for version that offer unlimited bandwidth. Hotspot Shield hides your IP address and provides encrypted traffic tunnelling (ideal for use on public Wi-Fi networks) to improve security and ensure privacy.
You may not want to use Hotspot Shield at all time. For instance, you may only be interested in using it to access certain sites that are blocked in your country. In this case you can create shortcuts to individual sites in the Hotspot Shield window which will enable protection before launching the sites. Protection can also be toggled on an off with a single click.
The paid-for version, Hotspot Elite, only costs a few pounds or dollars a month, but it's worth trying the free edition first before opening your wallet. Its additional features, including ad-free browsing and dedicated customer support, make it a tempting proposition.
Review and where to download: Hotspot Shield
TunnelBear is VPN made easy – but keep an eye on the data limit
In addition to anonymous browsing, free VPN TunnelBear can also be used to bypass traffic-shaping and throttling put in place by ISPs.
The free version of TunnelBear gives you up to 500MB of data each month, but if this isn't enough, unlimited data is available for a subscription fee, with prices starting at US$4.16 per month (about £3, AU$6).
Whether you go premium or stick with the free version, you can share a single account between up to five phones, tablets, Windows PCs or Macs.
Configuration is incredibly simple, and TunnelBear's free privacy software can be used with any browser. It's probably the most accessible VPN tool there is, and is just about impossible not to recommend.
Review and where to download: TunnelBear
A great VPN for protecting your privacy, but free users have to wait their turn
Another multi-platform VPN, CyberGhost is available as a free ad-supported app, as well as a paid-for edition offering better performance and more features.
For day-to-day or occasional use, the free version should be perfectly adequate. Configuration is very simple, with the only potential stumbling block being the installation of a virtual network adaptor.
With a single click, CyberGhost will activate, giving the impression that you're browsing from another country. The free privacy software also lets you keep an eye on how much traffic you've transferred through the service using a handy graph.
The downside of using the free version of CyberGhost is that there's a limited numbers of spaces on the servers, so you may have to wait to gain access (although you're unlikely to be kept hanging for long). There's also a premium edition that offers improved performance and extra features.
Review and where to dowload: CyberGhost