Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on February 26, 2014
Discuss this article at the Guerilla Free Speech Table inside the Diner
Communicating on the Internet is full of all sorts of hazards. Two of the biggest are the loss of Privacy resultant from dropping your thoughts on far distant Disk Drives run by other people and the fact that both Da Goobermint and Private Individuals can ascertain who you are and in some cases also where you live.
Over my years participating on the Internet in chat rooms and on forums and blogs, I have pursued a semi-Anonymous paradigm. I write under a Nom-de-Plume, and my email addresses don’t feature my real name, like say Joe.Sixpack@beer.com. 🙂
So for the typical user who reads something I write, I am anonymous to them. Reason for this is that dropping your real name out there to the world at large can cause you all sorts of problems if somebody is annoyed at what you wrote. They can find out where you work, and you can get harrassed on the job because of it. In fact, going back to my earliest years in internet participation, I actually got fired from a job because some critiques I wrote of my industry got back to my employer of the time.
After that less than pleasant experience, I elected to do all my writing as an Anon, under the nom-de-plume most of the time in recent years in the Collapse Blogosphere as Reverse Engineer, aka RE. This allows me to write my thoughts more freely, without so much fear of Blowback from it. However, as I got deeper into internet participation and eventually started up my own websites with my own URLs and server space, I began to realize how really limited this level of Anonymity is. When you register a URL (the Uniform Resource Locator which is your Web Address), you have to pay for that, and to do that you have to use a Credit/Debit card with your real name on it. This goes into the database of all the owners of URLs, which can be looked up by anyone. You can pay EXTRA to have your personal info masked to the public at large, but it of course always visible to the NSA as well as all the Admins of various routers that transit the information.
The next area of vulnerability is in participation on privately run websites, where whether you sign up or not, each time you post up your IP address is recorded along with whatever content you dropped on. This IP address is Unique to the computer you were keyboarding on at the time, and records also the Host through which you are connected to the net. In some cases it is possible to nail down a location just from this information. For instance, if you are connected up to a Hotel WiFi and there is no masking or proxy servers being used, any Admin can see what hotel you are staying at when you make a post.
Internet surfers who are both truly paranoid as well as quite savvy will mask their locations by using proxy servers, if they do this then the typical Admin of a website can’t discern their location just from the listed IP address, though Tracing is possible and done by for-pay Security firms specializing in this sort of stuff. Again for the NSA, this level of adding personal security is pretty much a waste of time too unless you are very, VERY good at it. I am certainly not that good, so I simply no longer worry about being listed and followed by the NSA, if they deem my stuff worthy of following.
At the level of the individual website though, the folks who sign themselves up and post Anonymously hope to REMAIN Anon to the population at large. So if/when they find out or realize that the Admin on their favored site has checked into who they are and where they are posting from, they get the feeling their Privacy has been Violated. Has it been?
Not really, because the moment you sign up or even just post up, you GIVE AWAY certain privacy rights. You cannot participate without your IP showing up with the post. From the POV of the website Owner/Admin, you have to know the IP addys, because if you have Troublesome people on your website, this is the only way you can Ban them. Troublesome people include Spammers who throw on Pharmaceutical and Video links in with their post as well as Trolls who drop on the site specifically to disrupt the conversations taking place and deliver their own agenda to the readers.
Here on the Diner, I have a basically No Ban policy except for Spammers, but even so with the Trolls I keep track of the IP addys so I know if somebody is posting under more than one Screen ID. Besides the general practical problem of keeping the conversation civil and on track, there are also legal issues you face if you have a particularly extreme commenter show up on your site. Such a commenter might be someone who is a Neo-Nazi advocating a Violent Revolution who also posts up Diagrams for making IEDs and maybe even Nuclear Bombs. Or somebody who persistently makes links to and embeds explicit Pornography. I have never had either of those types show up on the Diner fortunately, but if they did I would Ban them despite my No Ban general policy. Reason is at this point I can be held legally liable for allowing the stuff to go across my website.
Most of the time though, you don’t face such extreme problems, but you still do keep track of everyone posting, and sometimes issues come up regarding the general Honesty of the poster, which happened here recently in the case of our Favorite Energy Industry Shill, MKing. His real qualifications have been a persistent question on the Diner by many because he is very nebulous about them, and so one of our Admins decided to at least determine if he was where he said he was at an Energy Conference, and it turned out he was. He was in fact validated as at least being there by the research this Admin did, and he wasn’t particularly upset about this.
However, though he was not upset much by this, some other Diners were TERRIFICALLY upset, and in fact one of the Diners deleted his membership as a result of this. The Paranoia became rampant here that people were being SPYED on and that Real Identities would be Outted on the Diner for the Anons. Nothing of the sort has ever happened here, and will not happen if I can prevent it, because this is against my own personal ethics and the way I post on the net! I don’t want my IRL Identity bandied about, so I am not going to advocate any other Anon Poster gets outted either.
Same time though, the more you post, the longer you post and the more deeply involved you get in internet communications, the more likely it becomes that your IRL Identity becomes known. In fact, probably half of the Diners don’t bother with Anons at all, or have very thinly disguised ones. WHD for instance publishes himself as William Hunter Duncan on his own Blog Off the Grid in Minneapolis, and JDW uses his real name of John D. Wheeler all the time. In both cases also their locations are known, so you KNOW these guys are honest on this level.
I have seen how the paranoia regarding Identity and Location will hamstring participation on the net before. One of our most valued contributors, BC2K dropped off the net after I informed him that his location was transparent by IP Addy. Besides that, he used his real name as part of his email addy, so that is a dead giveaway right there. As someone who REALLY wants to remain unknown and private, this was too much to bear for BC2K, so he disappeared from the net far as I can tell. This was a great loss to the Diner Community, but a loss to BC2K as well, because there are always new things to learn here on the net no matter how good a solo prepper you are.
It is OK and in fact worthwhile to have a certain amount of Paranoia with respect to Web participation. At the same time though SQUARING the Paranoia, and allowing yourself to be completely cut off from the communication with others helps no one, including yourself.
There are many basic means of securing yourself from problems that you worry about, like being infected with Viruses and Malware. If this is a real big concern of yours, use a separate dedicated Netbook for participation on Websites that you think might infect your computer. If it does occur, you can wipe the Hard Drive clean and start over, without damaging any files on your main laptop. Don’t use your real name as part of your email address, make a separate email addy on Google or Yahoo just for the purpose of communicating on websites you believe are dicey or compromised. Use Free Wi-Fi at Coffee Shops and Libraries if you want to hide your main Internet Provider and location.
Awareness of the problem and taking your own preventative measures can allow the best of both worlds. You have good security for yourself while at the same time you can participate and glean more knowledge and information from others who are concerned with the same problems you are.
In the end here, we all are known quantities to the folks in control so long as we use the Internet they also control. You cannot use the Internet AT ALL, including email, if you allow your Paranoia to Square itself. Use CFS in protecting your identity and your computer if this stuff concerns you. You can remain pretty safe and still participate, long as you have awareness and knowledge of how the system works and what is visible and what is not. YOU have control over that, not the Admins of websites like the Diner.
From the NSA and Google though, you got no means to remain Anon unless you are simply first class Hacker. You gotta live with that one if you want to participate on the net at all.