How to be anonymous on the internet?
August 20, 2010 9:59 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to start an anonymous correspondence with someone?

It's not to be a weirdo or anything. I just want to inform someone of some things I think they should know without them learning who I am.

I could set up a dummy email but I'm worried about the ip address. Is there any truly anonymous way to reach out to someone online? Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you're worried about the IP address, can you take a laptop to a cafe with WiFi? Or email from the public library?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:01 AM on August 20, 2010


Use a proxy/Tor when sending the email from your web email client.
posted by rancidchickn at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2010


You have to consider how important it is going to be for the recipient of your message to find out who you really are. Is this a message that will inspire overwhelming anger? If so, then the recipient may take extraordinary measures to track you down, despite your use of a dummy email account. However, in most cases, a dummy account is quite a sufficient precaution. It's almost certainly not worth the trouble to track you down.

You could also get someone else to set up a dummy email account and then send your message on your behalf. If the recipient of the message tracks that person down, he or she could admit to sending the message but state that they merely sent it on behalf of another person whose identity they will not reveal. Chances are, the recipient of the message is not going to arrange to have your chosen intermediary kidnapped and tortured until your identity is revealed. I hope that the CIA is not involved. You aren't Osama bin Laden by any chance, are you?
posted by grizzled at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2010


Does it have to be via the internet? Could you just send a paper letter via the post?
posted by anastasiav at 10:08 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


The cafe/library scenario probably only works best if it's a one time situation. Beyond that, it probably just increases the possibility that could try to search you at at those locations - so perhaps go to a library you don't usually go to?

(this is assuming the person lives near you).

Another thing to think about is that that cafe/library IP address still narrows it town to a particular territory - I'd probably still try to think about who might be living in the area that I know. If you could be recognized that way, perhaps do it when you are on a trip, or get a friend across the country to do it in a cafe in their city?
posted by anitanita at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2010


Set up a dummy email. Gmail is fine for your purposes, as it does not include the sender's IP information in the header, so they would never see it.

Your own IP would be on Gmail's servers, yes, but it would take a subpoena to get that information. I don't know what information you're wanting to convey, or to whom, but I highly doubt it'll be that big of a deal.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoopsie - grizzled is fast! What they said,
posted by anitanita at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2010


You're overthinking this. Write an anonymous letter, drive to a different town/neighborhood, drop it in a post office mailbox with no return address.

Presto, complete anonymity.

Analog > Digital
posted by Justinian at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2010


Analog > Digital

Unless Anonymous hopes to get a reply.
posted by jamaro at 10:32 AM on August 20, 2010


You're overthinking this. Write an anonymous letter, drive to a different town/neighborhood, drop it in a post office mailbox with no return address.

Presto, complete anonymity.

Analog > Digital


The sender probably won't be tracked, but it does potentially provide a number of clues that a recipient with sufficient motivation & resources could use to find and verify the sender. The sender would need to take care not to reveal personal information such as: fingerprints, DNA (via hair, skin or saliva), hand writing, laser printer serial #, etc.
posted by justkevin at 10:36 AM on August 20, 2010


Also, we don't know if the OP knows the snail address of the person.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2010


If your initial email turns into an exchange then you have to be sure that you never accidentally load any remote images contained in a message from the other party -- even though gmail does not reveal your IP address in the message headers it can't do anything about your browser or email client directly retrieving images, which gives away your IP address and User-Agent among other things. Most webmail services and email clients are pretty good about not loading remote images by default, but make sure you don't override them. This also means that you shouldn't click on any links in the message, and make sure that any attachments are pure images and nothing else. (Insert rant here about how HTML email is responsible for this boondoggle and if you could go back in time and kill the guy that invented HTML email we wouldn't have all these kinds of security problems.)

Also, if you intend to send any pictures at any point in time (e.g. as proof of a cheating spouse or whatnot) then make sure to strip them of all EXIF metadata headers first.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:46 AM on August 20, 2010


Is their e-mail address out there? Is it displayed on a work website? Can it be found by googling their name? If the answer to these questions is no, if this person is remotely chary about broadcasting their e-mail address, then the chances of them identifying you would seem to increase considerably.

Do you know this person? Have you e-mailed them non-anonymously in the past? If so it might be advisable to do whatever the electronic equivalent of writing left-handed is (sorry, lefties). We all have stylistic quirks in the way we write which might make us identifiable in this scenario, particularly if what we have to say takes a lot of saying. Maybe run your message back and forth through some translation software?
posted by tigrefacile at 11:35 AM on August 20, 2010


Use an anonymous remailer like Anonymouse to send the email (you can send one to yourself to prove to your satisfaction that all identifying headers are stripped away).

If you need to be able to get a reply, make up an address at Mailinator (or use one of the randomly generated ones they provide).

Use the other suggestions to add further layers of obscuration - go to a coffee shop, library, or other town to send the mail. If you're *really* concerned about privacy, don't use your own computer to send it - any server you connect to knows your MAC address, which (in the extreme case) could possibly be subpoenaed.
posted by foobario at 1:45 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


The sender probably won't be tracked, but it does potentially provide a number of clues that a recipient with sufficient motivation & resources could use to find and verify the sender.

Well, yes. But it's still harder than something sent digitally. Remember that it took years and years for the full might of the United States to track down a guy who murdered people with anthrax sent through the mail. And as far as I understand they didn't identify him via the mail but via the anthrax.

Basically I think unless the OP is planning to mail a nuclear device sending it via mail is foolproof. And it's simple, takes no technical expertise, and no special knowledge or materials.
posted by Justinian at 1:48 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's another option, Anonymous Speech. It seems to cover all the bases as far as privacy, identity laundering & usability goes. You get 5 free emails to test it out & then you'd have to pay to play further.
posted by scalefree at 2:31 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


any server you connect to knows your MAC address

This is simply not true. The MAC address is only shared between devices on the same broadcast domain because Ethernet only encompasses Layers 1 and 2. As soon as you hit a Layer 3 device such as a router or a switch, MAC addresses are no longer passed on. This means that the only other devices in the world that ever see your computer's MAC address are those that are the same local LAN segment. Run Wireshark sometime and capture a browsing session -- you'll see the MAC address of your NIC and either your cable modem or your switch/router (assuming a standard home network) and any other local hardware but that's it. It's the same thing at the server end.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:11 PM on August 20, 2010


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