Why Data Anonymization Doesn’t Work

You know those movies where the government is trying to keep a secret and it has that one computer that, if you get access to it, you can see all of its secrets? That’s what data anonymization is like. 

You might think that by deleting all of the identifying information from a data set you’re protecting yourself from prying eyes. But as it turns out, pseudonyms and random values just don’t cut it when it comes to protecting people’s privacy

In fact, with enough data and some clever analysis, it’s often pretty easy to figure out who someone is. So if you’re thinking about anonymizing your data before sharing it with anyone, think again! There are much better ways to protect your privacy online.

What Is Data Anonymization?

Data anonymization is the process of modifying data so it can no longer be used to identify an individual. This can be done in a number of ways, such as by removing personal identifiers like your name and social security number.

The goal of anonymization is to protect your privacy while still retaining the credibility of the data to be used for research or other purposes. Anonymization is not foolproof, but it can be an effective way to reduce the risk of identity theft or other misuse of your personal information. While every additional effort to protect your data helps, risk reduction doesn’t guarantee your anonymity.

Why Do Companies Collect and Anonymize Your Data

Companies love anonymized data because it allows them to understand how their customers are interacting with their products, without requiring them to jump through legal hoops and put extra data protection measures in place. Anyone that uses anonymized data in a respectful way can learn meaningful insights while still safeguarding customer privacy.

A company may collect data about your shopping preferences to customize its product offerings. This company doesn’t want to identify you as an individual customer, so it uses a number of data anonymization techniques to reduce the risk of revealing your personal data. 

That said, most companies can’t be trusted with your data because you don’t know what they’ll do with it and data breaches are common. Also, data de-anonymization is a thing (we’ll get to that soon).

Some companies and entities like data brokers don’t anonymize data. They stalk you across the web, collecting the crumbs of data you leave behind and they can learn a great deal about your identity. You can counter this practice by using a VPN. CyberGhost VPN hides your real IP address and encrypts your connection to preserve your online privacy.

Data Anonymization Techniques

As mentioned earlier, we’re talking about minimizing the risk of revealing your identity. So multiple data anonymization techniques go hand in hand to make it harder for third parties to piece your information together and learn who you are. Here are the most important anonymization methods:

          • Generalization: This process replaces specific data with generic information. For example, instead of listing your exact address, it might only list your city and state.
          • Perturbation: Cybersecurity experts try to spice things up by adding random noise to data to make it less accurate. Data perturbation reduces the success of data mining.  
          • Pseudonymization: Data records contain information that can help identify you. To try and prevent that, experts replace some of your real data with fake information.
          • Shuffling: Organizations use the shuffling method to rearrange data. Imagine mixing up the puzzle pieces randomly until you can no longer identify the image. 
          • Scrambling: The scrambling approach masks sensitive data but the information is still usable by certain systems. For example, a business may see only the last 4 digits of your credit card number, but the payment system will see all of them. 

By understanding and using these data anonymization techniques, organizations can better protect your privacy. Unfortunately, some of them will only mask your data and that doesn’t mean your data is anonymous! 

Data Anonymization vs Data Masking

Data masking and data anonymization are two very different things. Data masking is the process of hiding data from certain people or groups. Data anonymization, on the other hand, is the process of making data completely anonymous so that it can’t be traced back to its source.

So, what’s the difference? Well, data masking is typically used to protect sensitive information, while data anonymization is used to protect your identity and privacy. Data masking might hide your real name but the data anonymization approach will make you hard to identify. Even if someone knows your data exists, they’ll have a rough time tracing it back to you.

That said, neither data masking nor data anonymization is foolproof. Don’t trust other companies and organizations to protect your anonymity. Cybercriminals can take advantage of outdated security measures and data mismanagement to learn who you are, despite the use of anonymization methods.

When you go online, protect yourself by using good cyber hygiene practices and securing your connection and your data with a VPN. CyberGhost VPN protects your privacy even when you connect through an open Wi-Fi network. Our strict No Logs policy is a guarantee that we don’t track, store, or sell your data. 

Can Anonymous Data Be De-Anonymized?

Industries use anonymization techniques to hide sensitive information, but when you browse the web you leave bits of data all over the place. This leaves the door open for data mining and de-anonymization. Third parties can cross-reference the anonymized data sets with open sources of data to identify you. 

For example, the anonymized data shared by a telecommunication company can be matched with the open data shared through a social platform. The same thing can be done with data from an e-commerce site and the public census. Cybercriminals use this cross-referencing method to reveal your real identity and your online activities.

Don’t be surprised if your information ends up in some underground market on the deep web. Someone might even use it for identity theft, phishing, coercion, extortion, or threats.

Industries with Strict Data Protection Laws

Every industry likes to tell you how much it cares about protecting your data. Nonetheless, the first half of 2022 has seen almost 2000 data breaches. Many businesses, government institutions, and even Google have fallen victim to data-hungry cybercriminal groups.

That said, some industries carry a much larger privacy burden than others because they collect sensitive banking and health data. Think about how much your bank and hospital know about you. Because of the large amount of private data they gather, these industries are very attractive targets for data miners and cybercriminals. This is why most governments put industry-specific privacy laws in place. 

The most sensitive industries with strict data protection laws are:

          • Educational institutions
          • Medical and healthcare providers
          • The finance sector
          • The energy sector

Unfortunately, laws and data anonymization techniques aren’t enough to protect your data from state-sponsored hacker groups and dedicated cybercriminals. You need to take matters into your own hands and protect your data from your end.

What Can You Do to Ensure Your Data Is Anonymous?

Companies collect most of your personal data through the websites you visit, forms you fill in, and the apps you access. Also, your browser and your favorite search engine *cough* Google *cough* go above and beyond to gather your information. So here are a few tips to help you stay anonymous:

1. Switch to a privacy-focused web browser and search engine. You can find plenty of open-source alternatives to Google that won’t track your every move. Give Brave, DuckDuckGo, or Firefox a try.

2. Set up an anonymous email account. Big tech companies with free emailing services can gather all the data in your inbox. Switch from Google and Yahoo! to anonymous email services like Tutanota or ProtonMail.

3. Change your passwords and use strong, unique passwords for each account. Don’t use the same password for everything just because it’s easy to remember. Use a reliable password manager instead.

4. Check regularly if your email addresses have been exposed in a data breach. Even big companies like Google and Microsoft fall victim to hackers. Websites like haveibeenpwned.com can help you see if any of your accounts have been compromised.

5. Watch out for strange emails and don’t click on any suspicious links because you might download malware onto your device. A hacker can learn everything about you if they can enter your system.

6. Download CyberGhost VPN to secure all your devices. Connect through one of our servers to route your data through an encrypted tunnel. CyberGhost VPN relies on the latest 256-bit AES encryption algorithms that make your data unreadable. We also hide your real IP address to make it even harder for someone to track you down.

Protect your data from, and remove any free VPN apps from your devices. Free VPNs use you as their product and often sell your data to the highest bidder.

CyberGhost VPN Keeps You Anonymous

CyberGhost VPN scrambles your online data like an egg in a skillet to lock it away from peeping eyes. Our encryption protocols wrap your connection in a protective tunnel, so no one ever gets their eyes on that data – not even us! We don’t keep data logs and we don’t collaborate with the authorities. Convince yourself by checking our quarterly Transparency Reports.

You can never be too serious about data protection. Any personal data you leave online can eventually be traced back to you if you don’t take preventative measures like using a VPN. 

CyberGhost VPN uses the latest security technology to keep your data safe even when you connect through an unsecured public network. Connect up to 7 devices simultaneously using our dedicated apps and enjoy your online freedom without worrying about data-sucking vampires.

Final Thoughts 

Data anonymization is useful and it lowers the risk of exposing your data, but it doesn’t work quite as advertised. An organization can’t guarantee your privacy simply by using data anonymization techniques. With the right tools, someone can de-anonymize your information and learn everything about you.

To protect your identity in the digital world, you need to take precautionary measures and connect through a premium VPN. Use your common sense, install privacy-focused tools, and download CyberGhost VPN for maximum privacy.


What is data anonymization and why do we need it?

Data anonymization removes or modifies personally identifiable information in a set of data. Companies use data anonymization to lower the risk of leaking personal and sensitive information and to protect your privacy. Unfortunately, it’s not a foolproof solution.

You can take privacy into your own hands and connect to a VPN like CyberGhost VPN. We hide your IP and encrypt your data so nobody can track you. You can connect through any network, even a public one, and you won’t have to fear anyone snooping around. Take your time with our 45-day money-back guarantee

How do you anonymize data?

You can anonymize data by using several anonymization techniques like generalization, perturbation, and shuffling. You can randomize certain details, introduce fake details, and add noise to make it difficult to identify someone specifically.

That said, you can protect your anonymity even better by using a privacy-focused browser, restricting the information you provide to companies, and using a reliable VPN.

Can you reverse data anonymization?

You can de-anonymize data no matter which data anonymization technique was used. It’s not necessarily easy, but data anonymization doesn’t guarantee you anonymity and privacy. Only you can take the necessary precautionary measures to protect your data. That means limiting the amount of information companies can gather about you.

Use a private alternative to Google Chrome like a privacy-focused browser. These take steps to protect your data, like preventing trackers from recording your information and automatically deleting your data when you’re finished browsing.

Is data anonymization the same as data masking?

Data anonymization and data masking are two different concepts, but they sometimes go hand in hand. Anonymization alters personally identifiable information, while masking simply involves making it hard for unauthorized persons to access personal data.

Both techniques are necessary to protect sensitive information, but neither of them is enough to guarantee privacy. Use CyberGhost VPN to browse anonymously on up to 7 devices simultaneously and take matters into your own hands. Don’t just rely on companies to protect your data, prevent them from getting it in the first place. 

What is the best way to ensure your data is anonymous?

Use privacy-focused browsers like Firefox, TOR, and Brave along with an anonymous email and CyberGhost VPN. All of the aforementioned tools focus on anonymity, privacy, and data security — and they’ll help you keep your data to yourself.

Contact our 24/7 Customer Support team to help you get started and get more tips on how to protect your digital identity with CyberGhost VPN. 

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