Creating a website and keeping my identity secret
February 25, 2015 2:05 PM   Subscribe

In the year 2015, what is the best way to start a website that prevents others from finding out who the owner of the website is?

I'm a woman. I want to say some things on the internet using a Wordpress template (but not a wordpress.com site) and not have people show up at my home or harass people I know.

Explain this to me like I'm five. Where do I go to register the domain name? What steps do I take to keep my identity a secret?

For financial and privacy reasons I can't just hire someone else to do this for me.
posted by tulip-socks to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I use Dreamhost for registration and hosting; they obscure your information in the whois listing. I assume a subpoena would be a different situation, but in 17 years with them I have never been contacted directly - not even spammed - regarding any of my many domains.

They also offer one-click installs of Wordpress and many other popular tools, which auto-update when new releases become available.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:10 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used NameCheap to register a .com domain name where I didn't want either my name nor my address to be displayed on the WHOIS - they offer a free service which will mask those details from being displayed publicly. I seem to remember it's a checkbox on the domain registration page, called something like "Domain Privacy."

For hosting, it doesn't matter so much - once you have your domain with a private registrar like NameCheap, you can host the site on any hosting provider with very little in the way of privacy concerns. You might like to look at hosting outside the USA, for example in Europe, if you think you might find yourself in legal bother for what you're writing and want an extra layer of protection. Otherwise, just pick a hosting company that works for you.
posted by winterhill at 2:15 PM on February 25, 2015


Note that if you send e-mail to anyone from the domain you're buying, it will contain your IP address.
posted by cnc at 2:24 PM on February 25, 2015


Pretty much any registrar has "WHOIS protection" these days. NameCheap does, but charges $2.88 a year for it (the first year is free). Other registrars offer it at no additional charge. Keep in mind that some top-level domains don't allow a false address in the WHOIS record (for example, .us) but it's available for the "big three."

For extra privacy, you might consider a European registrar such as Gandi. It is harder for a US entity to subpoena their records, EU privacy laws tend to be stricter than US ones, and they do offer WHOIS protection. Their pricing isn't unreasonable either.
posted by kindall at 2:25 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you don't need a fancy hostname, you can often get web sites inside some org that has no demand that you reveal who you are, and even have some desire to keep customers secret. That is probably safest.

I like NearlyFreeSpeech for this. You can get "FOO.nfshost.com" sites with almost no effort.
posted by cmiller at 2:29 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


When you register, make sure it is private -- and make sure it is registered privately out the gate. Although it is free to just look up any ol' current domain registration you want, through pay services it is possible to see the history of a domain's registration, so if the domain was transferred or the registration changed, someone could see all those changes. When you buy it, maybe you can use someone else's info or some other entity to shield you as an extra layer. Maybe you can set up an entity with a PO Box or something that wouldn't be traced to you through legal/public means.

I wouldn't worry about IP address that much. They can be "spoofed" or changed via VPNs and proxies. Yes, we all have IP addresses attached to who our modems, but unless you are sharing your name and address online somewhere for someone who has access to your IP address, I wouldn't get caught up in that. If someone saw you browsing their website, at best they would figure out what city you live in. They wouldn't know who you are unless you identified yourself while on their website, for instance. Or unless they are a hacker and they hacked you, which the average internet troll is not.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:29 PM on February 25, 2015


It's a few years old now, but Andy Baio give some general privacy hints at the end of this article. The article itself is good, too: it shows how Google Analytics can be used to expose anonymous website owners in certain circumstances.
posted by griseus at 2:38 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This blog entry by Brooke Magnanti (AKA Belle du Jour) is a very thorough summary of a number of potential pitfalls that can compromise anonymity in a blog.
posted by *becca* at 2:40 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Be wary of uploading any files to your web site that were originally created on your computer or phone. An image file may contain embedded information about the device or program that created it, or even the GPS coordinates where the photo was taken. Other files like Word or PDF documents may also contain metadata that's not obvious at first glance. And many methods of blurring images or redacting documents can be reversed if not done properly and carefully.

If you do need to upload any files, make sure to research what types of metadata they contain and how to strip it.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:13 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does it absolutely have to be wordpress? There are some pretty robust Tumblr themes out there, you can give them an email address unconnected to the rest of your internet life as a login, and you'll probably find a sympathetic audience quickly there, given the culture (though admittedly I have no idea what you plan to write about).
posted by softlord at 7:20 PM on February 25, 2015


Crash Override Network, co-founded by Zoe Quinn to help others who are targeted by assholes, has a Tumblr with tips for protecting yourself. It may be a little overkill right now, but good to have on hand in the future.
posted by Phire at 7:46 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


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