The ultimate privacy hack: How to hide online in plain sight

Image: Reuters/Steve Marcus
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This question originally appeared on Quora: I’m about to create an alternate identity online as an artist. How do I go about ensuring no one can find me? Answer by Dan Tynan, Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo! Tech.

To really hide online, you need to do it in plain sight. That means you will have to create an entire fake online persona—on Facebook, Google, Twitter, even LinkedIn—using this identity. Do not link any of those accounts to your actual identity or your real email address.

(Note also that by doing so you are likely violating the terms of service of these networks. Only Twitter allows you to create multiple accounts and use pseudonyms, as far as I am aware. So don’t come crying to me if one day they nuke your account.)

That means you will need layers of email addresses—a pseudonymous one connected to another pseudonymous one that isn’t your primary one and doesn’t use your name, because all of those services use your email address to ID you, and some ask for secondary emails as well.

Don’t link any of these to your actual phone number. You may need to get a virtual phone number if they require one for authentication. There are multiple options for this out there online.

Don’t “friend” or connect any of your real accounts to this fake persona.

Use a different browser than you normally use for other websites and set it to private or incognito mode. That way you won’t be sharing cookies or browser fingerprints with your real self.

Turn off any location sharing on all of these services. Use Tor or another proxy service to obscure your actual IP address (and location). Do not use your real mailing address; if you require things to be shipped to you, get a private mailbox. If you are accepting payments, you will need to look into bitcoin or other virtual currencies.

If you decide to create a website, be sure to use a privacy service like Domains by Proxy when you register it, to obscure your identity and contact information. Otherwise, your DNS info is public.

Best tip: Choose a fake name that’s hopelessly common—like John Miller or Samantha Smith—that makes it harder for anyone to narrow a search for you.

The more information people find about you online, the more you will look like a normal person, not a fake. People will assume your fake persona is real. If you use something unique like Fofamajama or Hermoncules, you are clearly a fake, and thus become a challenge for someone with too much time on his hands.

Too much work? Probably. And even then a determined individual (or the NSA) may be able to track you down. But it probably won’t be worth their time.

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How do I protect my privacy online completely?

What’s it like to disappear for years without telling your friends or family your whereabouts?

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