Reflections on anonymity

I decided to make this an anonymous venture, for two reasons – first, so that I can share my What Ladder? moments without too much of an ethical twinge about student confidentiality, and second, so that if I feel like venting about my feckless husband (currently spending a month working on a concert for a floozy in BF, Mongolia, and no doubt bonking her brains out), I can.

I was talking about anonymity and blogging with my incredibly smart brother, Henry the Philosopher, last night. H the P maintains that no one’s blog is truly anonymous, and his hobby is finding the supposedly anonymous blogs of his freinds, acquaintances and enemies in order to poke fun at them. I challenged H the P to find this blog, and here are his observations:

Here is how to find when a person naturally compromises their identity:

  1. They will mention their cats’ names on their anonymous blog – search their pets’ names.
  2. They will use the same sig as they do on other forums – search for their sig.
  3. If they revealed their new blog to some other person, that person will exist in both the anonymous and non-anonymous places using the same username or sig. Search for their friend’s username or sig.
  4. They will use one email address in conjunction with two different nicks. If people spend enough time on the internet, they will eventually reveal a public email address.
  5. People think they can reveal their age, gender and location without compromising their anonymity, but it really helps to narrow the field. One of the best things you can do to hide your identity is to change your age, gender or location to a false value.
  6. The idea is to create a cloud of search terms which surround but exclude the obvious ones. So you don’t search for a person’s primary nick, but you search for all the terms that show up near their primary nick.

I don’t think you made any of these errors, but maybe you aren’t indexed on Google yet. But you were probably trying not to, plus your blog hasn’t been around very long. Eventually, you would probably be findable in this manner.

I just edited his PhD, and I complained bitterly about that pronoun agreement error, but clearly without any lasting effect. Grammatical niggles aside, I am taking his list as rules to blog by.

It makes for an interesting balance, or a shift in identity. I revealed something here that few of my friends and none of my family members know, although they so many other things about me.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on anonymity

  1. badgerbag

    You can find a person based on real life knowledge of what they’ve done lately, or small details of daily life. I found a friend’s blog by googling “pear juice” plus a medical condition her son has; and another blog by simply technorati-ing the name of a book I knew another friend had read recently.

  2. whatladder Post author

    This is true, but on the other hand, finding people that way still gives them plausible deniability.

  3. Anonymous

    Eh, I disagree… nothing is to say I would post about details of my daily life that anyone else would know of. That’s to say, if I wanted to remain anonymous and thus, tell no one about my blog, then obviously, I’m writing things on my blog that other people do not know of. So how would you google that? Plus, there’s probably thousands of people who have just, for example, watched, Spiderman 3.


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