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What Is an Anonymous URL?

By Alex Newth
Updated: May 16, 2024

An anonymous uniform resource locator (URL) is a shortened URL, or link, that takes a long website address and shortens it, in the process making it impossible for the user to know the real address. Many website addresses are long, especially for online businesses; by using an anonymous URL, it will be easier to digest the link. When links are sent via email, there is a chance they will break and the link will not be clickable. In social networking, especially when there are character restrictions, an anonymous URL allows the user to share websites without using too many characters. Online marketers also use this service to keep users from feeling sold.

With an anonymous URL, a long URL is turned into a short one; this works by making a redirect link. A special website address is made that is very short, though it really just redirects the user to the long URL address. This is considered anonymous, because the shortened URL does not tell users what website they are going to before they click the link. This means the anonymous link may be safe or malicious, and the user will not know until after clicking.

Long website addresses sent via email have a tendency to break, because the URL itself needs several lines. This breaking means the link is not clickable, which is an inconvenience. By using an anonymous URL, the URL will be short enough to click and will take up very little room in the email. This also looks more visually pleasing.

Anonymous URL services are often used in social networking. Most social networks limit the amount of characters users can type in a single message, and a long URL can easily go over the limit or leave very little room for the user to type anything else. This problem is alleviated by shortening the link, and it makes the website address easier to digest.

Online marketers also use anonymous URL services, sometimes legitimately and sometimes as scams. If the marketer creates a legitimate review website, he or she will often use affiliate links to link to products, meaning the reviewer will get a commission if someone buys a product. Some users may feel like they are being sold if they see the affiliate link, so the marketer hides it with an anonymous URL. Many websites do not allow affiliate links, but online marketers can use a shortened URL to get around this, potentially scamming other users.

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Discussion Comments
By Windchime — On Aug 22, 2011

@Monika - Twitter is the place where I have seen these anonymous URLs, and they're ideal for that site. But people should remain aware that scammers and phishers could be lurking there.

Some sites which offer a URL shortening service allow you to choose one with a preview. That is the type I would use, if I needed to do this. By giving the reader a look at the site the URL leads to, you'd surely increase their confidence and encourage a click through.

By Monika — On Aug 22, 2011

@starrynight - I agree. I think a good rule of thumb is to question everything on the Internet just a little bit.

Although some people do use anonymous URL's in unsavory ways, they are pretty useful for certain things. A lot of my friends are really big fans of Twitter, and using an anonymous URL allows them to tweet a webpage address. Some website addresses are actually too long to fit in one tweet!

By starrynight — On Aug 21, 2011

I think using an anonymous URL for affiliate links is just so sneaky! I sometimes don't mind if people make money off of my purchases, but I like to know about it, you know?

Also, I think the presence of affiliate links would probably make me feel differently about a review. If there were a ton of affiliate links on a glowing review of a certain product, I would definitely question the truthfulness of the review. But with anonymous URL's there is no way of knowing!

By allenJo — On Aug 21, 2011

@everetra - Why don’t we all just go back to the ultimate form of shortened URs? That is, we can go back to using IP addresses for our website links.

It doesn’t get much shorter than having four numbers separated by periods. That’s how all website addresses are resolved anyway, by DNS lookups. The English domain names are just for our benefit.

By everetra — On Aug 20, 2011

@David09 - I guess I don’t understand what ugliness has to do with anything, personally.

Yes, URLs can become very long, but how often do you actually have to type a URL in a web browser’s address? Usually you just click on a link in an email or on a website.

Whether the URL behind the link is five characters long or fifty characters long shouldn’t make a difference. I do understand, however, that some of the social networking sites have limitations on the number of characters you can use in your messages, and in that context it would make sense to have an abbreviated URL.

By David09 — On Aug 20, 2011

@hamje32 - I’ve noticed that some software download sites have started to use anonymous (shortened) URLs.

They do this because the original URL is very long; this is because the software repository has the software stored in different folders, and the URLs used to download the files will reflect the path information in the URL.

The actual link gets to be pretty ugly to look at after awhile, so they use an anonymous URL in its place.

By hamje32 — On Aug 19, 2011

One place where I’ve noticed abundant use of anonymous URLs is in phishing scams. This is where you get an email purportedly alerting you that your bank account has been suspended or something like that.

The email tells you to correct the problem by clicking on the embedded link which is supposed to direct you to the bank’s website address. However, if you look closely at the link it bears no resemblance to the actual bank’s address; the link itself appears innocuous, because it’s usually short and doesn’t tell you anything about the website that you’re going to.

When you click on it, however, you will be taken to a page that appears like your bank’s page but is actually that of the scammer’s website, which he will use to get personal information from you.

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