Friday, April 8, 2005

EFF's guide to anonymous blogging

I have mixed feelings about total anonymity. While I'm alarmed by the massive intrusions on privacy going on around us in our society, anonymity is also the refuge of rascals.

For example, one thing that makes the virus problem on MS Windows so insane is the easy anonymity with which the virii can be distributed. If there were strong accountability in the email system then virus writers, spammers, etc, would think twice or thrice about distributing their "wares".

On the other hand, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) clearly sees this differently.

How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else) (Published April 6, 2005 - EFF.ORG)

Here is their warning:

If you blog, there are no guarantees you'll attract a readership of thousands. But at least a few readers will find your blog, and they may be the people you'd least want or expect. These include potential or current employers, coworkers, and professional colleagues; your neighbors; your spouse or partner; your family; and anyone else curious enough to type your name, email address or screen name into Google or Feedster and click a few links.

The point is that anyone can eventually find your blog if your real identity is tied to it in some way. And there may be consequences. Family members may be shocked or upset when they read your uncensored thoughts. A potential boss may think twice about hiring you. But these concerns shouldn't stop you from writing. Instead, they should inspire you to keep your blog private, or accessible only to certain trusted people.

Now, I don't know about you, but for me blogging is a way to publish articles and writing. It's not necessarily "uncensored thoughts".

Their general recommendation? Blog anonymously. That would mean, find a vehicle through which you can blog without giving away any identifying factors of yourself.

In practice being totally anonymous is going to be difficult. For example if you register a domain name, you must provide name and address information. So if you blog on your own domain, like I'm doing, then someone need only look up the domain registration to find out who it is writing. But the EFF kindly points to a couple of anonymyzing services.

One of their recommendations is really weird. Namely, to make your content ungooglable. Okay, strange, because to my eyes you want google to find you because then your writings are useful because they are findable.

It's as if the writers of these recommendations believe a) that everybody who blogs is writing stream of conscious uncensored thoughts, that 3) those uncensored thoughts will offend people, q) that offended people will fire or shun the blogger.

I believe that the place to write uncensored thoughts is in a diary you keep private somewhere. They don't belong being plastered on the Internet for the world to see. That still leaves a lot of room for blog usefulness, as a blog is merely a web site where the articles are arranged in chronological order. For my purposes it is perfectly fine to expose who I am, though I am careful of exposing things like my address or phone number.

On the other hand, a "whistleblower" might find an anonymous blog a convenient avenue to blow their whistle in safety. There are many whose life purpose involves exposing information that the authorities in charge would find dangerous. If they had to identify themselves in order to publish the information, they would be threatened. In such cases the anonymizing services are entirely appropriate.