You might not feel like anyone is watching when you use the internet on your phone or tablet, but the truth is that all your activities could be monitored by lots of interested parties. It could be your ISP, your government or just companies that want to advertise their wares. To put a stop to this here are a few different ways to stay anonymous while using your Android device online.
Private browsing = not private
The most obvious place to start is with the web browser you already use. Most offer some kind of private or incognito mode, which promise to forget any sites you’ve visited, but these are not quite as safe as they might sound.
While your web searches won’t be saved on your Android phone or tablet, they will still be visible to your Internet Service Provider, the websites you visit, or your employers if you’re using a work connection.
Also, any downloads you make remain in your downloads folder after you’ve finished browsing, so you’ll need to remove those manually.
If you only want to keep things private from other members of your household then the private modes are fine. If you want to keep things really private then you’ll want to use a
VPN service as well.
VPN = private browsing
A VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel through which you connect to the web. This makes is virtually impossible for anyone to see what you’re up to.
Using a VPN couldn’t be simpler. Most Android apps have a large button which you press to establish a connection and a couple of seconds later you’re protected.
There are a number of excellent paid services, such as
ExpressVPN, plus several free options too, as you’ll see in our roundup of the
best VPNs for Android.
We don’t recommend the free services for a variety of reasons, including the fact that some sell your data in order to pay for the service you’re using.
How to enable private mode in a web browser
If you don’t want a VPN, but want a little privacy, here’s how to enable private or incognito mode in an Android web browser.
On Chrome you’ll find it in the upper right corner with the icon of three dots.
Tap this then select New incognito tab from the menu. The frame of the browser will now be dark and you’ll see a little hat and glasses icon in the status bar at the top.
In Microsoft’s Edge browser you’ll need to tap the three dots in the bottom right corner, then select New InPrivate tab from the options that appear.
While the normal Firefox browser has a private mode, we’d recommend you download a different app:
Firefox Focus, which is permanently in that state.
Which is the most secure web browser for Android?
While the mainstream offerings have private modes, there are some that are built from the ground up to protect your privacy and anonymity online.
StartPage is one of our favourites, as it boasts a zero-data collection policy that means the browser doesn’t store any information about you, including your IP address, which is often how websites know who or where you are.
This is bolstered by SSL encryption so your ISP won’t know what you were searching for, and all browsing history is ‘scrubbed and anonymized’ to ensure you are protected.
StartPage is completely free and an easy way to curtail any snooping from overly nosey parkers.
Other good options are
Orbot: Tor for Android, which features a built-in VPN, and if you want to stop sites tracking you then
DuckDuckGo are fine choices.