Your Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique identifier that each device must have to connect to the Internet. It is brought to you by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from a pool of IP addresses provided by the organizations that regulate their Internet.
Your ISP, which is your broadband or mobile network provider, not only knows which IP address is connected to you at any given time, but is also able to access your web traffic.
ISPs promise not to tamper with web traffic and not to leak the identities of customers tied to their IP addresses, at least to anyone other than law enforcement. However, service providers have an unpredictable track record in this regard. Many monitor their customers’ data for certain types of activity, like torrent traffic, and may even sell details of their browsing history to advertisers. Even if you trust your ISP, there are plenty of other ways to reveal your true IP address that can leave your online privacy vulnerable.
Key Reasons to Keep Your IP Private
Here are some key reasons why you might want to hide your IP address:
1. Keep your browsing private
Your IP address can potentially reveal a lot of information about you. Any website can track and log your IP address when you visit it and will often log it along with other data they collect about your interactions and preferences.
If you post to online forums, for example, your posts will likely be associated with your IP address. When you log into your email and shopping accounts, they will also know what IP address you are using. You can see how quickly it can expose your online activity if someone starts putting data from two sites together.
Although most websites do not publicly disclose their users’ IP addresses, hacks, where user information is stolen and leaked, are very common, and even large companies are regular victims. Once someone knows what IP address is connected to you, they can start tracking your online activity in an incredibly simple way.
To not leave a trail of your activity online, it’s important to keep your IP address private. You are never truly anonymous if it’s being exposed.
2. Stop Advertisers
Advertisements on the web are not only used to sell you things – but they can also track your activity. Even if you regularly clear your browser cookies, intrusive advertisers can use your IP address to follow you around any website that loads their ad. As well as adverts, most social media plugins and buttons will do the same.
Some people are fine with this because it allows advertisers to promote the products they are most interested in. Not everyone is happy that every step is followed for targeted advertising, however, keeping your IP address private will allow you to stop exposing your online activity to unwanted third parties.
3. Accessing streaming content
Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have different catalogues of movies and TV shows available in each country they operate in, due to local laws and licensing restrictions.
The US and Japan have by far the largest content catalogues on Netflix, which are normally blocked off by users from other countries. Many Netflix users outside the US will want to access this catalogue, for example, or content that is only available in a specific region.
Accessing the Netflix US catalogue from outside America is possible by masking your real IP address behind a US one using a proxy server or Virtual Private Network (VPN). Connecting to the internet via a VPN server would also allow you to access streaming services that only operate in the US, like Hulu. Equally, if you wanted to access French services, you could use a server-based in France.
Numerous YouTube videos are geo-blocked from certain regions too, especially when they include licensed music. If you’ve run into a geo-blocked YouTube video before, you’ll know how annoying this can be. A VPN or proxy will allow you to access this content with just a couple of clicks.
4. Stay safe on public WiFi
Using public Wi-Fi networks is convenient when you’re away from home, but it can leave your online security vulnerable if you don’t take the necessary steps to protect it. These types of networks are usually insecure, which means it’s too easy for a malicious third party to spy on your browsing activities and even acquire your login credentials.
The main problem has more to do with encryption than hiding your IP; Malicious hackers love to bypass public Wi-Fi networks looking for easy targets. Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attacks can be used to intercept data traveling between your device and your router, giving a potential hacker access to any unencrypted information. But while these types of attacks rely on a lack of encryption, they also need your IP address to be successful.
VPNs are invaluable if you need to use free public WiFi for any reason. They simultaneously hide your IP and heavily encrypt your data, allowing you to use public WiFi without worrying about MITM attacks.
5. Bypass censorship
Keeping your real IP address private can save your life if you live in an oppressive regime. By hiding it, you will not only be able to access blocked websites and content, but you will also be able to prevent anyone from tracking you or finding your true identity.
Even if you’re lucky enough not to have to worry about the government as a result of your online activity, hiding your IP will also allow you to bypass blocks at school or work. Sites like YouTube and Reddit are some of the most commonly blocked and even when they are not, your employer can track your online activity through your IP address if you are using WiFi at work. Keeping your IP address private will allow you to browse the sites you want wherever you are, without anyone else snooping around.
How to hide your IP address
The best way to keep your IP address private is to use a VPN. Most major VPN providers have many servers around the world, making it easy for you to mask your IP address and choose the country of origin for your replacement IP address. This allows easy access to geo-block streaming services. Unlike proxy servers, VPNs also encrypt all your traffic, protecting you from Man-in-The-Middle attacks.
If you are using a VPN and you’re concerned that your real IP address might be getting leaked, use a free IP address checker like HMA!’s to see whether your visible IP changes before and after connecting.