June 14, 2008 9:03 PM   Subscribe

How anonymous is my anonymous blog?

What steps would someone have to take to figure out that I am the person publishing my anonymous blog? Right now I use blogger. Would I be less anonymous if I had my own domain name? I'm thinking of using adsense - in which case Blogger would know that I am associated with my blog. How concerned should I be that someone else can track that connection? (I'm not blogging about anything illegal, I just really want to stay anon). Also, if its not obvious, I am tech-stupid, so please speak slowly in a loud, clear voice when answering my question.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
A domain could make you less anonymous because they could look up your domain information and find out who it's registered to, and even where you live and your phone number. However, domain registrants like GoDaddy provide you with an option to hide all your details, but it costs extra.

In my opinion, a domain is far less inconspicuous than just having a blogger URL.

I can't really address your other issues, though.
posted by Dreamcast at 9:14 PM on June 14, 2008

I'd be most concerned about your blogger identity in your current setup. You would have to be very careful about not using it to comment on other blogs or other websites where you might post personally identifiable information. If you use the same ID or e-mail address at other sites, people might be able to start to form a picture of who you are.
posted by mmascolino at 9:39 PM on June 14, 2008

If you'd like to trust someone random on the internet, I seem to be half-decent at internet detective work. If you sent me your blog name I'd have a try at compromising your identity with the promise that I'd never reveal my findings to anyone but you.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:56 PM on June 14, 2008

In addition to what has already been said, what and how you write is extremely important. Details that only you or a small group of people will know about whittles the list of potential authors down fairly quickly. If you do that sort of thing often enough, eventually someone will be able to pick you out.

If you're trying to keep the people you know from guessing that it's you, then this could prove to be your downfall.

However, if you're just trying to keep someone like me, who doesn't know you, from being able to connect your online self to your real world self, it's easier. Be careful about details. Mentioning smaller towns around big cities instead of the big city is an easy mess up. For example, James Island or Ladson instead of Charleston.

I'll be happy to help you out some more through MeFi mail if you'd like to see some advice that's a bit more tailored to what you're after.
posted by theichibun at 10:07 PM on June 14, 2008

TheOnlyCoolTim - €5 for his/her identity.

In all seriousness, I have no idea how well Blogger protects somebody's privacy. If you wanted to do it with them, set up an account with them with a separate email account and do all work behind one or more proxies. If you aren't posting any sallacious or libelous and just don't want somebody to click your profile and see, oh it's Bob, well then having no public information on Blogger is probably sufficient. AdSense complicates that by the very nature that Google takes a lot of information for that and if somebody actually wanted to track that, it might be easier or at least they'd have another avenue to do it.

Getting a domain doesn't do much, and if you did, you'd want to do it via a proxy registrar. If you don't, then your contact information becomes public in the WHOIS database.
posted by cgomez at 10:10 PM on June 14, 2008

TheOnlyCoolTim - €5 for his/her identity.

Fuck that, I'm a man of my word, and my promise is my promise.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:11 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here are things I would suggest:

1. Create a new persona. I mean doing it full out with a new email account and a new nickname exclusively for this blog. Use these credentials to sign up for a free blogging service, eg wordpress, blogger, tumblr etc. Do not link photos or videos from your personal accounts like flickr or youtube. Strip the pictures of exif tags before posting.

2. I second Dreamcast's comment on domain names; don't bother with a domain name unless you think it's really important to you.

3. I also agree with mmacolin, for real anonymity, keep things compartementalized. Don't blog about anything relating to your work -and- personal life if you are using this login name elsewhere. Otherwise, people can form a picture about who you are based on the content of your posts. For the really paranoid, I would suggest you don't blog about anything that's geographically identifiable like watching a movie that was on limited release, or even the weather.

Of course, all of these things are only helpful if you are planning to distance yourself from things you'd rather not be linked to. There is no real anonymity if you are planning on posting things that are illegal or libelous.

At the end of the day, it's really a just sliding scale on how much you want to discuss things in your blog versus keeping people from figuring out who you are. If you look at sites like, it's highly unlikely that the Waiter's old boss or close friends won't know who this guy is by now. Over the last few years, he's posted about his past as a mental-health worker, his time in the seminary, etc etc. If your concept of anonymity is on the Waiter's level - ie, don't want every joe out there knowing who you are; staying unknown is relatively quite simple. If on the other hand, you want to post about acerbic observations about your co-worker, you'll likely get called out no matter how much precaution you take. On that note, using google adsense is should be throughly thought out first. Does ad revenue mean that much to you? You can of course, always incorporate yourself...but that's a whole new level of complication.
posted by phyrewerx at 10:15 PM on June 14, 2008

Tim - was a joke ;)
posted by cgomez at 10:20 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

So, I've give advice before on hardcore anonymity. For blogging, the game is slightly different, but the commonality here is having an web connection that cannot feasibly be tied back to you. If you're dealing with elements with significant resources (anyone who could hire a PI, any three letter agency), the steps outlined there apply.

Beyond just keeping your connection anonymous (should you deem it necessary) there is the matter of getting clean hosting. Lying about your identity is very likely illegal (IANAL). But they won't know who to bother if you do it correctly.

I'm willing to take a stab at determining your identity, same terms as TheOnlyCoolTim.
posted by phrontist at 10:30 PM on June 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

(Oh, and NFS has a domain privacy system at reasonable rates, if you go that route. I'd use the domain they give you. Keep in mind that lying about your domain contact details could result in loss of the domain under ICANN rules.)
posted by phrontist at 10:31 PM on June 14, 2008

Getting a domain name won't make you any more anonymous -- in fact, it will open up another avenue of investigation for anyone who's trying to discover your identity.

How far you want to go basically amounts to how far you want to trust Google (who runs Blogger). Google will know your IP address, and possibly your real name if you have a Google Account (even if you maintain a separate account for your blog, the two are easily correlated via your IP address -- and Google does correlation like nobody's business). If you're just concerned about stalkers, having a separate Blogger account will probably suffice. If you're worried about, say, the FBI or a civil suit, this won't be good enough, since someone with the legal authority could simply subpoena Google for your IP.

If you don't trust Google, you could use an anonymizer proxy. Of course, then the question becomes whether you trust the anonymizer...

The issue could be bypassed entirely by using an IP that isn't traceable to you (e.g., not from your home Internet connection). Use a stranger's wi-fi or an internet cafe (pay cash or use a gift credit card paid for with cash). Don't do anything personally identifiable from the same location (e.g. log into your personal GMail account). It'd also be a good idea to clear your browser cookies before connecting to your "anonymous" internet.
posted by neckro23 at 11:28 PM on June 14, 2008

TheOnlyCoolTim - €5 for his/her identity.

Fuck that, I'm a man of my word, and my promise is my promise.

All right, you're a tough one. €10!

As others said above, the generic Blogger address is more anonymous than your own domain, and if you only use that BloggerID for your own blog (never, ever, ever posting comments on others while signed in) then your IP address and other crumbs of information won't get strewn around for others to follow back to you.

The Visa Gift Card is a nice idea, too, if you need to pay for things.
posted by rokusan at 12:53 AM on June 15, 2008

Nthing NearlyFreeSpeech for domain registrations. You could perhaps get someone you trust to keep their mouth shut to register the domain for you, if you really want one?

Get a new email address, sign up for a new blog with someone other than Blogger/Google, and do it all via a proxy. Always remember that your IP address has the potential to be personally identifying information too.

I know you're posting as anonymous, but if you think I can help, feel free to mefimail me.
posted by Solomon at 1:44 AM on June 15, 2008

If you want to be hidden from a potential subpoena, or a serious stalker, that's a whole different game. If you want to be hidden from your employer, family & ex-boyfriends, then it's really up to you to never, ever give out identifying info, and phyrewerx has excellent advice.
posted by theora55 at 6:46 AM on June 15, 2008

Depends on the level of anonymity you are looking for- if you are just looking to be unsearchable by people you know or work for, it's pretty easy using the above methods. Use a domain registrar that doesn't keep your info on file. Don't put your name anywhere. DON'T UPDATE THE BLOG AT WORK! (The IT people will be able to see the connection from you to the blog and easily connect it to you.) Make sure there's no identifyable information (IP Addresses) being posted to the code of the blog or used in email updates or RSS feeds). I'm not sure this happens, but check for it.

But if you are looking for untrackability, like an Apple Secrets or whistle blower type of blog, where people will want to find out who you are, it becomes much harder. You'll have to use anonymizer services for ALL activity with that blog (posting and reading it and reading comments). Even then, don't do it at work. All some entity has to do is connect you circumstantially to the blog and your cover is effectively blown. IE, if they see that every time your computer connects to the anonymous service, a new post appears on the blog, that's good enough to get you in trouble.

Computers are really good at recognizing patterns, and humans are really good at leaving patterns.
posted by gjc at 7:42 AM on June 15, 2008

With regard to registering your own domain ...

There's a MetaFilter member, who goes by the handle "Foetry Guy," who had a domain registered anonymously using Domains by Proxy. Upon receipt of a letter by a personal injury lawyer, they burned Foetry Guy and revealed his identity. (Here's the Metafilter discussion; NYT discussion.)

If anything depends upon your maintaining your anonymity, I wouldn't rely on a proxy registrar.

There are domain registrars out there who will open an account for you if you send them a money order. You can then register a domain, with false details. Unless someone challenges your registration, or unless some high-level IP-address tracing is pursued, I don't see how your identity could be revealed if you were to pursue that route.
posted by jayder at 8:53 AM on June 15, 2008

Seriously anonymous blogging is almost impossible. You'll say something, you'll slip up and leave a comment with your real name somewhere else and linked to the blog, you'll give away too much personal information, etc... The difficulty increases with the number of readers. I say this as someone who effortlessly discovered the identity of two anonymous bloggers.
posted by paultopia at 11:19 AM on June 15, 2008

There are also services who will list all websites hosted on a particular IP address, so if you do end up getting your own domain, use a host that you don't use for other sites that have identifiable information on them.
posted by Addlepated at 1:19 PM on June 15, 2008

Lying about your identity is very likely illegal (IANAL). But they won't know who to bother if you do it correctly.

Not exactly. You legally can call yourself anything you want unless you're trying to assume someone else's identity.
posted by orange swan at 4:24 PM on June 15, 2008

As jayder points out, even services that appreciate anonymity are limited by the law.

Use a registrar that doesn't require personal information. Like this not just one that "anonymizes" a regular domain.

Get a cheap laptop (maybe an eee or something similarly portable) and install Tor. Set up your blog on a host that allows SSL logins, otherwise the tor exit node will pwn you. Use this laptop for nothing else but updating your blog/doing things as your alter ego. Don't check your mail. Don't read slashdot. Don't just do one quick thing.

Security and anonymity are matters of discipline not technology. Bearing in mind of course that a sufficiently motivated attacker can bypass any security. If you're pissing off a dictator or the NSA none of this will help you.
posted by Skorgu at 8:38 PM on June 15, 2008

Yet another thing that you should consider is the fact that someone who knows you really, really well will be able to sniff out your prose style. One method by which you might be able to avoid a stylistic "tell" is to either have trusted friends paraphrase your entry or using one web-translation service to translate your writing to, say, Chinese, and a different one to translate THAT back into English (and editing to correct for weirdness). Don't underestimate the possibility that your own words can be the pattern that gives you away.
posted by chimaera at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2008

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