An increasing problem with using the internet is the sheer amount of personally-identifiable data that internet companies now try to collect from their users.
For companies such as Facebook and Google, the aim is to help them better understand users so they can better target advertising at them. However, businesses in general have become used to see user tracking as a legitimate way of finding out more about potential customers.
The result is that individual internet users can end up with dozens of tracking scripts download to their browser which follow which websites are being visited.
Usually this is all installed without even asking for permission, and it's become such a real concern now that the European Union launched GDPR as an attempt to empower users with a choice of which cookies and scripts they actually consent to.
The problem is that a lot of businesses seek to comply with the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it, with the result that most websites now come with a popup asking if you will accept cookies or not, without offering an actual opt-out from any tracking.
While there are browser settings and plugins that aim to help internet users better control their privacy, often more extreme measure are now required.
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Best paid anonymous software
The best VPN service right now is ExpressVPN. It's the best all-round option for speed, privacy and unblocking websites. A close second place and third place are Surfshark, whose downright simplicity to download and operate make it a really appealing option, and IPVanish that handles P2P and torrenting particularly admirably. Read more about these VPN services and the competition below.
The best all-round VPN service for speed, privacy and unblocking
Get 3 months free with an annual plan on TechRadar's #1 rated VPN
ExpressVPN delivered outstanding performance in our speed tests and excellent customer support plus a 30 day money back guarantee.
ExpressVPN offers access to more than 3,000 servers in 160 locations across 94 countries, alongside maybe the widest platform support you'll find anywhere.
We're not just talking about native clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, plus iOS, Android and even BlackBerry. There's custom firmware for some routers, DNS content-unblocking for a host of streaming media devices and smart TVs, and surprisingly capable VPN browser extensions for anything which can run them.
All that functionality could sound intimidating to VPN newbies, but ExpressVPN does more than most to help. An excellent support website is stuffed with detailed guides and tutorials to get you up and running. And if you do have any trouble, 24/7 live chat support is on hand to answer your questions. It really works, too - we got a helpful response from a knowledgeable support agent within a couple of minutes of posting our question.
The good news continues elsewhere, with ExpressVPN delivering in almost every area. Bitcoin payments? Of course. P2P support? Yep. Netflix unblocking? Naturally. Industrial-strength encryption, kill switch, DNS leak protection, solid and reliable performance and a clear no-logging policy? You've got it.
Downsides? Not many to speak of. The ExpressVPN service supports five simultaneous connections per user (increased from three), and it comes with a premium price tag. But if you want a speedy service, crammed with top-notch features, and with all the support you need to help you use them, ExpressVPN will be a great fit. While they don’t have a free trial, ExpressVPN has a no-questions-asked 30-day money back guarantee if you aren’t happy with the service.
Get the best overall VPN 2020
Our #1 recommended VPN is the one we would choose if we were getting one: ExpressVPN. TechRadar readers get 3 extra months free when they sign up for a year. And you can also give it a try first with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
One of the fastest swimmers in the VPN sea
Based in the British Virgin Islands, Surfshark has laid-back and playful branding. But when it comes to keeping you and your online identity secure, it's all business.
The basics are all in place for starters. So that includes OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2 security protocols, AES-256 encryption, and a kill switch ready to stop your details leaking if ever your connection fails. In addition, Surfshark boasts a private DNS and an extra security blanket via a double VPN hop. Not to mention a logging policy whereby only your email address and billing information are kept on record. It's fast, too, whether you're connecting to a US or UK server or somewhere further away - say in Australia and New Zealand. Handy if you're trying to access your Netflix account from abroad.
If you're somebody who is easily bamboozled and, ultimately, put off by complicated menus and myriad options, Surfshark could be the best VPN for you. It keeps its interface completely stripped back and free from complication. All you'll really see are options for 'Quick connect' and 'All locations', accompanied by a Settings icon, and nothing else at all really. Whether that level of detail (or lack thereof) is a boon or a drawback entirely depends on your perspective.
One of our favorite things about this VPN service (other than the price) is the fact that your subscription covers an unlimited devices and services. So if you plan to use your VPN on your laptop, desktop (compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux), tablet, a couple of mobile phones (iOS and Android both covered) and Amazon Fire TV Stick for watching overseas TV, the one account will cover you on all of them simultaneously.
Surfshark offers a 30-day money back guarantee, giving you plenty of time to give it a try before committing for a longer period. And even then, annual plans are very reasonably priced indeed.
One of 2020's best value VPNs
While Surfshark loses out to Express when it comes to sheer all-round quality, security and support, Surfshark has bite when it comes to pricing. Subscribe to a longer plan and you can bring the monthly spend down to less than $2/£2.
Protect 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 offers 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 product, Hotspot Elite, only costs a few dollars or pounds a month, but it's worth trying the free edition first before opening your wallet. The premium version's additional features, including ad-free browsing and dedicated customer support, make it a tempting proposition.
Multi-feature firewall protection and more
Norton 360 Deluxe offers an even richer and more feature-packed internet security suite than just providing a firewall. While it provides for antivirus and standard anti-malware protections like the above internet security suites it dares to go further.
Additional features in the Norton 360 Deluxe edition includes a secure VPN, parently controls, a password manager, and online cloud backup. There's also a feature for dark web monitoring so you can be alerted if any of your details appear for sale on the Dark Web.
This all comes at a more expensive price than the other internet security suites featured here, but the additional features and peace of mind are likely to be worth it for some people.
Although the deluxe edition comes in at $7.99 a month, for an extra $2 a month you can upgrade to the Lifelock Select version which provides additional identity protection and credit rating monitoring as well as insurance provision in the event that your personal information is mis-used.
Good value firewall and internet security solution
Firewall, real-time malware detection, speedy cloud-based scanning, URL filtering to block malicious websites: Panda Dome Essential antivirus has all the essentials – not to mention, the goodies – you'd expect from the best antivirus software.
And, that's just the beginning. Panda Dome is brimming with added extras that some of the other plans on this list can’t match – from port scanning and ping handling to in-depth process monitoring and an integrated VPN.
The interface will be a little bit decisive, too. With so many weird and wonderful features included, Panda Dome does a very capable job of making sure that they can all be accessed and you can go as in-depth as you need. However, on the other hand, this might put off users who just want a quiet, simple antivirus package.
One undoubted advantage here is the price - Panda Dome Essential is one of the best value programs out there. And, you even have the option of paying a little more and upgrading to cover an unlimited number of laptops, phones, tablets and desktops with a single subscription.
Best free anonymous tools
This super-secure 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 nodes 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.
TunnelBear is VPN made easy
In addition to anonymous browsing, free VPN client 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 $4.99 per month (about £3.90, AU$6.90) if paid for annually. Alternatively, you can pay around twice that to use on a month-by-month basis.
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.
Speedy, anonymous browsing from a service that won't keep data indefinitely
In addition to its titular virtual private network, VPNBook provides a free SSL-encrypted web proxy for a spot of anonymous browsing. Take your pick from proxy servers based in the US, UK, France, or Canada, or let the proxy pick one at random.
In our tests, VPNBook was extremely fast, and its address bar/banner was unobtrusive. It also blocked ads and some scripted elements from web pages, which can be beneficial for privacy (though we’d appreciate being given a choice), and it supports HTTPS connections.
Like all free web proxies, VPNBook keeps web logs, which it can use to report illegal activity, but these are deleted automatically after a week.
It’s not perfect, but VPNBook’s speed, convenience and clear policy on logging make it our pick for the best free web proxy.
Privoxy gives you total control, but the options might be overwhelming
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.
Another great VPN that offers a huge data allowance
Windscribe is another multi-platform VPN tool in this list, where free users have access to one of the biggest data allowance in the business.
The free plan offers 10GB if you register (2GB if you don't) which for occasional use should be perfectly adequate. If not, there are paid plans that grant unlimited data and additional configuration options, with prices starting at $4.08 a month (about £3, AU$5.70) with an annual contract.
Configuration is simple as all you need to do is to click one button to turn the VPN on and you're good to go. Depending on your region, the software will automatically connect you to the best location, giving the impression that you're browsing from another country.
The downside of using Windscribe (free plan especially) is that the connection speeds can be average and inconsistent. Still, the pros outweigh the cons, so the service is well worth a try.
Also consider: private browsing
As well as private browsing software and VPNs, another possibility is to use stricter privacy controls on your usual browsers.
However, this is probably best considered as a first defense rather than a complete solution, especially when these are primarily aimed at preventing tracking cookies, and the browser manufacturer may consider themselves already granted permission to collect some user data in the first place.
Even still, we'll explore your options for making a start with private browsing using the most popular browsers.
Mozilla Firefox: You can adjust your privacy settings for Firefox using the official guide, which should allow a better degree of private browsing. Do note that unless you make adjustments, your browser will actually send a lot of information both to Mozilla as well as partners such as Google, not least on your location.
Google Chrome: Information on changing your privacy settings in Google Chrome can be found here, though take note that this is mainly aimed at controlling how much information third-party websites might try to gain on your surfing habits, and doesn't exclude Google from collecting data for its own purposes, not least usability and service improvements.
Microsoft Edge: You can find out how to adjust your privacy settings for surfing with the Microsoft Edge browser here. Again, this is more focused on browsing more privately than anonymously, not least with regards to advertising cookies.
Apple Safari: Information on how to adjust privacy settings using the Safari browser on a Mac can be found here , though note that Apple are apparently putting in place new privacy protections in Safari 12.2, in order to better protect consumers against the increasing use of data collection by companies through the apps they provide.