Yesterday I had an interesting experience. It got me thinking about Web anonymity and how it actually isnâ€™t that simple to stay anonymous in this Global Digital Village of ours, as some people might think it is.
I was reading an anonymous blog which I read regularly, because I find it very interesting and amusing1. I read it as I would be reading a book of interesting stories and I can actually understand the need for anonymity in this case. At the same time I was over at a social web service I use, looking into a group associated with this blog. Suddenly it hit me, in a more or less lucky coincidence I was able to draw two or three small parallels between a group member (with a real name) and this anonymous blog. It had nothing to do with names, IPâ€™s or some other server traces2.
It simply has to do with his lifestyle that got reflected on his blog â€” things that we usually wouldnâ€™t notice or focus on it, but when we get to see them all in one moment, it simply occurs to us. Iâ€™ve sent a message to this user, to check if my suspicions held up and he confirmed it – he was the author.
It got me thinking. This user was careful trying to stay anonymous and my discovery came as a surprise to him. But there is simply so much information on the Web, available to all of us, that it is very very hard3 to stay anonymous if we live a â€œdouble lifeâ€ on the Web, having real and anonymous profiles. Even if we have them on different Web social services. Hard detective work can expose you even when you take precautions â€” and you know what they say: you can never be careful enough.
Iâ€™m not writing this to say people shouldnâ€™t be anonymous on the Web. People use anonymity because of different reasons. Yes, many use it with bad and dishonorable intentions and are therefore forced into hiding, but some use it with good intentions or â€” if I put it differently â€” because they have good reasons to do so. What Iâ€™m simply trying to say is that users should be very careful when using anonymity, because it ainâ€™t that simple. If you use it for dishonorable intentions, donâ€™t do it – because you can get (and you eventually probably will get) exposed. If you use it for good reasons, donâ€™t be just careful â€” be very very careful.
1. I wonâ€™t link to it here, cuzâ€™ I have no intention of exposing his anonymity. [â†‘]
2. Hey, Iâ€™m not an admin. [â†‘]
3. Unless we are The masters of anonymity. [â†‘]