Friday, February 17, 2012

Anonymity in the Blogsophere. An Experiment...

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No, that is not an Ole Miss fan!

(Editorial note:  Long, boring, rambling blog post ALERT!  And, poor composition skills, too.  Consider y'all's selves warned).


I started to write this post about two years ago.  Then, I started to write it about a year ago.  Then, I started to write it about two months ago (make a note of that "two months ago" deal...there will be a quiz later).  But, something happened last week to me personally that helped me decide to finally do it, and bore y'all to tears in the process.


Whether you maintain your own blog, comment on blogs, or use other social media outlets, I can almost guarantee you that you CAN NOT remain "anonymous."  Well, let me back up...you CAN NOT if you put out ANY DETAILS of your life, or experience into the virtual world.  With enough effort, your true identity can be discovered if someone REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wants to find it.


So, what happened to Andy last week that prompted him to write this long, boring post (with poor composition skills, too)?  Well, thanks for asking!


Last Thursday I was at work (on my day job).  I was minding my own business, doing an assigned task that must be done.  I was walking through one of the large waiting areas filled with people, just about to pass in to a stairwell when I heard a voice behind me.  "Excuse me sir!"


Nothing uncommon about that.  In my job, I'm stopped dozens of times a day by people needing information, directions, help of some sort, etc.  I turned and saw a middle-aged man that I did not recognize.  He said/asked, "You're Andy, aren't you?"


Now, this is not uncommon, either.  As a local boy who has lived 48 of his 52 years in Bossier City, I'm often stopped on the job by people from my past...old classmates...parents of friends of my sons, or of my old friends...old folks from growing up in Church, etc.  And, even though my memory ain't what it used to be, I will brag and say that I ALWAYS remember a face, and can place it where it's supposed to be.  But, not this time.


My gray matter was drawing blanks.  All I could do was say "Well...yes sir, I am."  Then the gentleman introduced himself by name.  Still, I'm sure I had that Butch Cassidy "who is this guy?" look on my face.  Then, he said, "I read your blog, and sometimes comment.  I'm (commenting name redacted)!"  We had a nice visit, and I learned a little about his life...his work history...family...life experience, etc.  It was REALLY GOOD to be able to put a face, and a life context to an otherwise blank slate that an unknown blog commentor can leave you with.


So, HOW did this regular visitor to Andy's Place know it was me?


Well, DUH...my blog is WIDE OPEN!  He knew that I was a Barney Fife at a hospital in Bossier City, LA (there is only ONE hospital in Bossier City, LA).  He has seen multiple pictures of me, my family, and many retarded V-logs that have been produced here at the world-wide headquarters.


As a side note, I don't think he's seen my psoriasis pictures, because he hasn't been hanging out here all that long.  Would y'all believe that I have been through two (count 'em, two) winters without an outbreak of psoriasis?  Really!   I think I'm healed of it, Praise The Lord!!!  Maybe.  But, I digress).


Andy's Place is one of the most WIDE OPEN blogs out there.  And, that's okay.  After the first couple of years of blogging, I made the decision to just make this pitiful Titanic "all about me." (Check the header, dangit!)   And, you can't make anything "all about you" without leaving yourself wide open to be found.  And, "found" we are.  In my book, that's okay.  Actually, it's better than okay.


I swear, I had NO idea when I started blogging how it would open up a new world of "friends."  And, I mean that.  I have become acquainted with the finest of the finest of folks.  As we've rocked along here, I've come to know (and love) folks I never would have.  My life has been greatly enriched with the every day ins-and-outs of the lives of so many.  Truth is, I've bared my soul to many of you (off blog in e-mails & phone calls), and many of you have returned "the favor."  Nyuk...


We're a decrepit mess of humanity, aren't we?


And, y'all know who y'all are!


Thanks.  Seriously.


In a run-down of the regular visitors on the deck of the Titanic, I can name about a dozen of y'all that knew me before I stepped in to the virtual world...about half a dozen that I've met personally since then, and informed of this sinking ship...and the rest of y'all just happened along here by chance, or from bumping in to me on other blogs.


And, it's an honor to know you all!  For me, blogging has become about making relationships.  Heck, half of y'all have my telephone number.  If you don't, I'd gladly give it to you if you wanted it.  Many of you have stopped by the estate while passing through (that's always fun).  But, THAT'S ME!  I'm in a position in life now where I have nothing to hide.  I do not have any reason to be anonymous.


Sure, you read stories about how some weird, creepy, stalker dude tracks down some blogger he disagrees with & harasses his (or her) family, makes their life miserable, murders them, etc.  Well, that's just not something that I fear.  If I were a high profile pundit, or a young mother, or in a position of employment that might be compromised by my views it would likely be different.


But, none of that applies to me.


As I think about the bloggers that I've stuck with over the years, I can imagine that MANY of them have WAY MORE to lose by being WIDE OPEN.   I think of my buddy, Paul Mitchell.  I remember when he made the decision to stop blogging under a pseudonym, and come out of the closet.  Now, that could cost the guy.  He makes his living in an industry dominated by political lefties, and he could easily lose out on lots of work because of his hard-right politics.


I think about Pat Austin.  She is as right-wing as they come, and doesn't hold anything back in her political posts.  She's a school teacher, for cryin' out loud!  And, if you read her blog for very long, you can figure out where she teaches.  But, blogging under her real name makes it that much easier.  If some parent got a hate-on for her politics, they could make life miserable.  Heck, I've never asked her, but it may have already happened.


There are many of you that are in the same position that I am...no reason to strive for anonymity.  Many of you have freely given details about your employment, place of residence, etc.  Many of you blog under your real name, and enjoy the relationships as much as Yours Truly.  But, that's just YOU!  You're at ease with it.  But, others...not so much.


We all have our own threshold of privacy that we'd like to retain.  And, everyone has their reasons.  Be it for family, or social, or employment related issues, most everyone has a line they just will not cross in "giving themselves up."  And, that is completely understandable, and respected by me.  Each one of us knows our lives, and concerns better than anyone else.  And, only each individual can judge how far to go, or how much to "open up."


The Experiment:  (Some of the specifics have been altered here, but this is basically how it went).


About two months ago I got in to this discussion with another blogger in his "comments."  The blogger had made a passing reference to the fact that he was on the Board of Directors of an organization, and sketchily described what they were doing.  It sounded VERY interesting, and several commentors had asked him for directions to the .org's website for further reading.


That was the blogger's threshold.  He politely thanked them, but declined because he knew that if he pointed them to the site, his anonymity was shot.  Everyone that reads his blog would know exactly who he is.  And, that is just fine.  There is a line he doesn't want to cross, and that line should be respected.


And, I can understand WHY this fellow wants to fly below the radar.  He is in a relatively high profile position in his metro area, due to his occupation.  He is well known, and maintains a blog as an outlet for personal thoughts.


But, to make a point to the guy (and maybe to myself), I did me a little experiment...


I decided to find out who this guy is, simply by using the information he had given up in his blog posts.  So, from reading the guy for several years, I put on my thinking cap.


I knew that he is a Michigan Wolverine fan (bless his heart).  So, my first assumption is that he lives in Michigan...could be wrong...there are a handful scattered elsewhere, but I'm starting with Michigan.


I know the industry that he works in, because he's mentioned the type of work several times.


I also know that his wife works in the same industry.


I know that he has three children.  (Now, this is not relevant to finding him...but, it could be if I was some weird, creepy, stalker dude).


I had a fairly good idea of his age from reading about his years in college, knowing how long he'd been married, etc.


So now, I gotta guess a name.  I'll admit that this one was pretty easy in his case.  He blogs under a name that is very similar to a common man's name (turns out that it is a variation of his middle name...which he is not known by professionally, but helped me locate him through a The Gooble Search©).


Knowing just these things, me and Mr. Gooble got down to biniss!  I began by searching, "Michigan (insert the name I guessed) (insert occupation)."  Skimming the search results, about 5 spots down the page I see a link to a list of people that had been given a particular award by a benevolence group in a fairly good-sized city in Michigan.  Clicking through, I find that a man with the middle name I had guessed had been recently given this particular award.


Could this be my guy?  I took the full name, and ran with it.  The next The Gooble Search© went something like, "Michigan (insert full "maybe him" name) (insert occupation).  Bingo!  Result #1 linked me directly to the website of this man's company, and to his professional bio (along with a very nice photograph).  He looks to be about the right age, and kinda like I imagined he would.  Okay, so at this point we're just "supposing" that this could be the guy.  We need more than this.


Now, I also know that his wife works in the same field.  Fortunately, he has an unusual last name.  I mean, it's not Krzyzewski or anything...but it ain't Jones.  So, the next The Gooble Search© is more refined.  I now have a city in Michigan (but still we're just guessing).  It goes something like "(insert City) Michigan, (insert last name) (insert occupation).  Bingo!


Result #2 is a link to a website sporting a female with the same last name.  Clicking through, I am on the site of the firm that she works for.  Clicking through to her professional bio, I read about her education, accomplishments, and see a very nice photograph of a woman who is roughly the same age as the man I'd seen just scant moments before.  They are both quite professional looking, the same race, etc.


So, on to 123people.com we go.  Entering the man's full name and city yields surface results, but it tells me that he is related to a female with the same name of the chick I'd just checked out.  I've got my man.  So, to get further results, there are options on 123people.com.  I spring for the $1.95 option, which yields the man's birth date, and a list of 10 addresses spread over four cities in two states, and a land line telephone number.


If I had cared enough to spend about 40 bucks (you'd have to be a weird, creepy, stalker dude to do that), I could have accessed all public records on the man...maybe showing the birth records of him, and of his children, marriage license, property exchanges, etc.  (But, I do not actually know how thorough that service is, so I'm just supposin').  At this point it didn't matter.  I know who the guy is, where he works, where his wife works, and if I was some weird, creepy stalker dude I've got a list of home addresses, too.  BTW, I used GoobleEarth to check out the most recent address on record, and he has a nice house...it looks "homy." 


So, what to do with these results?  Well, e-mail the dude, of course!  I can't keep something like this to myself!  Dude needs to know how easy he is to find!  Well, maybe he didn't really need to know, but I couldn't help myself.  I'm a twisted piece of humanity, and when I succeed at something, I MUST make it known.


Using the e-mail link on his blog, I composed a thoughtful e-mail, explaining to him that I meant no harm...am not a weird, creepy, stalker dude, etc.  I just wanted the guy to know that if someone really wanted to find out who he was, he had already given enough information for educated guessers, and GoobleSearchers to locate him.  In the e-mail I presented all the information that I was supposing to be correct, and left it at that.


His response?  Well, at first it kind of set him on his heels...but, he wasn't really all that surprised.  In a few e-mail exchanges back and forth about this it was clear that he'd thought about it...had even discussed it with his wife just a few days before.  As we clickety-clacked back and forth, he and I both agreed that as a high profile figure in his community, there is a much greater likelihood of local weird folks causing him problems than weird folks stalking out in the blogosphere (like me).


But, he appreciated the effort, and he learned something.  Well, maybe he didn't "learn" anything, but something he suspected was reinforced.  


So, I'm passing it on to y'all.  If you value your anonymity (for whatever reason), be VERY, VERY, CAREFUL about how much you share on the 'net.  Of course, this is elementary junk.  It's something we all KNOW.  But, even something that you think is a harmless reference might give you up.


Some of you reading this maintain blogs.  And, knowing our visitors here, I know those of you that don't give a rat's hiney about privacy, and those of you that care deeply about it.  In fact, I'm thinking of one particular blogger that I read who has done an EXCELLENT job of shielding his identity, while still giving glimpses in to his personal life.


It can be done.  But, ya' really gotta work at it.


Every blogger has their own reason for doing it.  Many of them can't really put in to words for you WHY...but they know why.

That's all.


Like I said at the outset... "Long, boring, rambling blog post ALERT!  And, poor composition skills, too."
 
Y'all were warned.

29 comments:

  1. I don't worry about my identity too much - I just let 'er fly, but now and then I worry about my GGs. Maybe I should be more careful with pics of them. There are some weirdos out there.

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  2. Lou, indeed there are weirdos out there. But, there are weirdos that live right near them, and have already seen them.

    It's a hard pill to swallow, but they are EVERYWHERE!

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  3. I enjoyed our visit Andy I have used Kartman and it has become a habit I suppose. I don't really care if folks know who Kartman is. A lot of folks know already including the other local blogs where I post.

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  4. One more thing. Although we strongly disagree about football teams, I promise not to stalk you and attempt harm.

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  5. I thought yer post was pretty interesting, actually. I think anonymity is highly overrated, myself.

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  6. Bill, I enjoyed the visit, too.

    Kartman, Nyuk!

    Norman, I had NO DOUBT that was your attitude. You're about as open, AND TRANSPARENT as they come.

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  7. Great post Andy!
    Each blog is different. If you blog a lot about local politics, as I do, then you must be identifiable. It would be cowardly not to.
    Same thing if you have a blog on which you put innocent looking links, that when clicked upon, lead invariably to the picture of a naked fat lady.
    I suppose it would be possible to blog anonymously, but I'm not sure it's a good idea.

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  8. It's amazing what you can find out about a person if you really dig on the net! Your post is a good example.

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  9. Jim, Heh! I'm laughing at that one, and I can't stop...

    Scooney, indeed it is. There was much more I could have uncovered. But, the mission had been accomplished. Privacy is a bygone relic now.

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  10. Andy, this was an interesting and useful post for anyone who blogs. It was also dang well written so quit yer yapping about poor composition skills.

    When I first started blogging I knew I wanted to do some political stuff and I was more than a little concerned about possibly putting my family at risk. Reading your blog and seeing how open you were, helped me then to decide if Andy can do it, so can I.

    BTW, I don't have your skills with the Gooble Search thang, so until I saw that pic of your feet last year, I thought you were Andy Griffith.

    Also, after reading your essay, I'm changing my online name to Invisible Dan which will totally confuse them dang liberal extremists and Islamist pacifiers lurking out there.

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  11. Dan, that is very kind of you, sir. I know you to be a gentleman, and gentlemen are always kind to the retarded.

    Am I to assume from your comment that you have actually seen Andy Griffith's feet? Dang! A stinkin' foot pitcher gave me away...but, I do have nice feet.

    Just sayin'...

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  12. I'm kinda in the middle... I use a pseudonym but my email addy (which is derived from my real name) is right there on the page. Anybody with Andy-level sleuthing skills could track me down in about 3 minutes.

    But in doing so, they'd also learn that I'm an 18th degree blackbelt in Asskick-Do and just recently retired from the CIA Covert Ops Death Squad. So they tend to leave me alone.

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  13. Yeah, Inno. I actually figured out who you were shortly after I started reading your blog. It didn't take long...knew the city...knew the profession...

    Found out about the asskick-do, too. Somehow I missed the CIA deal, though. Should have spent the forty bucks, I guess!

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  14. The Mayor guesses he's one of the few peoples on the interwebs that uses his real name. Always has, always will.

    Sincerely,

    The Mayor

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  15. Mitch...you KILL ME! Always have, and I'm sure, always will!

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  16. You mean when I find out your home address, or in a funny ha ha way?

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  17. Mitch, Bwahahahahahahahahaha!

    You just KILL ME!

    Please.

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  18. This is all true. I did a sort of similar sleuthing experiment a few years back in trying to track down a long lost friend I'd lost track of. I had a name, a last known city and one other (unspecified here) bit of info. A few whirls through the Google stream and found the person and an email address. Very easy to do.

    As for me and anonymity, even though my mama raised me under the instructions that you "nevah" discuss politics, religion or money, I will discuss politics with anyone. Anyone but my students, that is. I keep my politics OUT of the classroom. 90% of my kids don't know or don't care about my blog.

    One rule I stick by though - I never blog about work. I might brag about our school or kids. I might vent about the state of education in general or about some lame brained idea from some suit who has never been in a classroom, but I never blog about frustrations that may come from a bad day at work. Unless it's just to say "today was a mean.ass.hate.day" as today's post was.

    Meh.

    Oh well.

    Nice post, Andy! Maybe you can turn it into a v-log! Love those things! I think you should v-log a demo of your light specs! :)

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  19. Pat, I read that mean.ass.hate.day post of yours, but wasn't quite sure what to make of it. In the end, I just figured you'd had one of those mean.ass.hate.days, and venting was in order...along with a beer, and a cigar.

    Hey, I might just make a V-log about my light spectacles IF YOU REALLY WANT ME TO! ;)

    As you know, I've got kinfolk what sat under your teachtin', and I can vouch for you on what you said about leaving politics out of the classroom.

    I really have wondered though, if your stances on politics, the NEA, etc. have brought down trouble on you from others in the field.

    You're made of good stuff, my friend. Honor to know you! You know...you're gonna get soaked tomorrow if you venture out to the Mardi Gras parade (if Mr. Weather knows what he's talking about).

    Sit in the Jeep, and take pitchers!

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  20. Oh I'm not doing the parade; Mr. SIGIS and are are going to see Jerry Jeff Walker at one of those casino places downtown! We'll do the Highland parade on Sunday when the sun is supposed to be shining!

    And nah, I haven't received any backlash that I know of.

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  21. Backlash can happen, the thing is to be absolutely correct on your facts and fair in what you do. Then it (hopefully) won't get you.

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  22. Andy, I betcha you can' t figure out who I am. If you do some sleuthing, or access your fading memories of high school, you'll hit on a name that you think is a sure thing, but in fact that person is a sophisticated decoy that's served as my body double for over 35 years now. If I told you why this elaborate ruse is necessary I'd have to kill you. Let's just say the fate of the universe - and the W-L record of the LSU Tigers - depends on protecting my anonymity...so be careful. ;-)

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  23. Andy, I'm with Inno. I'm sort of in the middle too. If you wanted to find me it can be done, but who'd want to.

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  24. Odie, do I ever understand! I mean...WHY would anybody ever want to find me? Except for the money I owe folks, and the poor kid with a leg brace that I tormented back in first grade...and that one guy that I stole his girlfriend from, at the point of a gun with ether and a rag...

    Dadman: Hmmmm....the W/L record of LSU depends on you.

    I really doubt that, so I am extremely happy that I have NO IDEA who you are.

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  25. Interesting post, there. Nice, big font makes it easy to read, too - I like that. Didn't even have to put on my glasses.

    Personally, I'm in the don't give a rat's heinie camp. Although I blog under an alias, that's 'cause when I built my first website back in the '80's (manual html; MOSAIC was the only browser game in town - heady days), I worked around a bunch of "progressives", so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Over the years, moving into blogging, heck - by then, everybody who followed the stuff knew the brand. And unknowingly, that's just what I'd gone and done: I'd established a brand name. No sense in confusing folks by switching things around.

    But then, I blog about all kinds of stuff, so it's just about certain that somebody's gonna get wound up because I dissed their favorite beer or whatnot. If they get bugged enough to track me down, then fine; they just need to be prepared, is all. A little research'd reveal that I've built some kick-butt lasers from time to time....

    But you only scraped the surface on this "anonymous" thing: if you want to be anonymous, you can. That's what proxies are all about. I've used 'em; they work. Most of the time, I don't care.

    True story: a friend blogging out of Washington was getting hassled by a troll, so he asked if I could help him out. Easy. I tracked that punk back to his Chicago dorm room. Ended his trolling (at least on that site).

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  26. Andy: Doubt me at your own peril. :)

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  27. Dadman, there are a lot of people that I would doubt.

    You are not on that list.

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  28. You can imagine the best part of having my name would be winding up on the forty-seventh page of Teh Google. Yet, I have always had my business site link at the bottom of my blog for years. It was probably four years before someone scrolled down that far, though.

    True story, I have known a dude for over a year that finally asked me if I was the same Paul at Your MoM. I just looked at him like he was stupid and asked, "What do you think?" He knew immediately that I was...he is obviously a dumbass.

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  29. TD, if I'm not wrong, I think it was Yours Truly that hit the link at the bottom of MoM. My memory is fuzzy these days, but I distinctly remember doing it, because you tipped me off.

    As to the dude that finally asked you...well, maybe he thought the MoM guy was the hairdresser, and it is obvious that you have zero gayness about you.

    Except for the earring deal...

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Don't cuss nobody out, okay?