Anonymous blogging is the creation and maintenance of an online blog under author anonymity. Unlike fake blogs, anonymous blogs are written by a singular author or partner authors, and arguably carry greater author credibility.
- 1 Background
- 2 Forms
- 3 Types
- 4 How online identity is tracked
- 5 Technical challenges
- 6 Techniques to stay anonymous
- 7 Risk
- 8 Anonymous blogging platforms
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
As a phenomenon, blogging began as a free-form medium to publish content and opinions on the World Wide Web. Consequently, some bloggers experienced greater attention and popularity as their content developed a readership.
While blogging as a phenomenon grew, the means by which bloggers employed the medium diversified as well. A catalyst in the development of anonymous blogging came after mass threats were directed at blogger Kathy Sierra, resulting in Tim O'Reilly calling for the creation of the Blogger's Code of Conduct. BBC News quoted O'Reilly as stating, "I do think we need some code of conduct around what is acceptable behaviour, I would hope that it doesn't come through any kind of regulation it would come through self-regulation." In 2005, O'Reilly, Robert Scoble and others came up with a roster of seven conduct criteria.
With the rise of Web 2.0, blog readers have become increasingly focused on the perceived authenticity of published material. The blogosphere's readership often correlate authenticity with disclosure of the author's public person. However, many active bloggers continue to resist identity disclosure, often out of concern around the consequences of associating their personal identity with their published material. This is a particularly strong motivation with bloggers who publish contentious or controversial material. Anonymous blogging allows the authors to maintain identity protection, and provides them a degree of freedom to publish content that might otherwise be difficult to broadcast under their own name.
Anonymous blogs are more often maintained by women, who have been estimated to maintain approximately 55% of anonymous blogs.
- Full anonymity: using an obvious John Doe style fake name, the blog and identity page include no personal details (i.e.: no photographs, birth date, location, hobbies, family, etc.), absolutely nothing to allow the reader to identify the blogger whatsoever
- Semi-anonymity: this type of anonymous blogger adopts a pseudonym title, sharing some identifying details to establish credibility, but not enough to identify them. Hence the blogger openly shares the details which establish themselves as authentic and real, but none of their personal details. This is the form used by many anonymous sex industry bloggers, where they are open about their career, but not about their whole life or hence identity, i.e.: British blogger Belle de Jour.
- Secret identity: effectively in this form you are you, but you adopt an alternate identity, which often exists across numerous social media platforms as an extension to the original blogging identity. This fully formed identity is the most easy for readers to engage with, thinking that they are engaging with the real human being behind the blog. However, much like a fake blog, if ever your real identity is revealed, readers can feel massively betrayed. For this system to work, you also have to adopt the identity from the very start of your blog.
Although anonymous blogging has taken a lot of criticism from professional journalists, the later two forms of anonymity have been used regularly since the origins of the press by various columnists.
Much as a blog can be on any subject, any anonymous blog can be on any subject. But most fall into the following major categories:
- Political: a commentary on the political situation within a country, where being open may risk prosecution. Anonymous blogging can also add power to a political debate, such as in 2008 when blogger Eduwonkette, later revealled as Columbia University sociology graduate student Jennifer Jennings, for a period successfully question New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's revolution in New York schools. However, political attack blogs such as that run by Mark McLachlan, the former assistant to then Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell, blogging under the pseudonym Montague Burton at The Universality of Cheese blog which cited sexual allegations against Scottish National Party opponents, are seen as highly unauthoritative.
- Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary: these can be both inspiring activity, or counter activity, often against a violent state apparatus. In example, Salam Pax the Baghdad blogger wrote for The Guardian newspaper under a pseudonym that he could shed only when Saddam Hussein no longer ruled in Iraq. Similar bloggers appeared during the Arab Spring.
- Religious: views and comments about religious view points and issues, perhaps question some written stand points. A
- Whistleblower: the whistleblower blog is a modern-day twist on the classical "insider spotting illegality" theme. These can cover all maner of sectors or issues. Amongst the most notable are that by the Irish Red Cross head of the international department Noel Wardick, who highlighted that €162,000 in donations to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami had sat in an account for over three years. After spending over €140,000 on private investigators and legal expenses to find the whistle blower, including court orders to obtain Wardick's identity from UPC and Google, the IRC disciplined and later dismissed Wardick. In 2010 an internal enquiry into Wardick's allegations found other such bank accounts, and proposals to overhaul the IRC's management were discussed in the Dáil on 15 December. Questions were answered by Tony Killeen, then the Minister of Defence. Wardick later successfully sued the IRC for unfair dismissal.
- Company insider: a company employee or insider, who reports on company operations and issues from within the organisation. The most famous is probably the Dooce.com blogger Heather Armstrong, who was fired for writing satirical accounts of her experiences at a dot-com startup on her personal blog, dooce.com.
- Community pressure: written by a citizen of an area, on a particular subject, to bring about a change. In 2007 reporter and blogger Mike Stark came out in support of anonymous blogger Spocko, who was trying to bring what he called "violent commentary" on San Francisco area radio station KSFO to the attention of its advertisers.
- Experience/Customer Service: most Experience blogs focus on personal insights or views of customer service, and often dissatisfaction with. Most anonymous Experience blogs are written anonymously as they allow the customer/user to keep experiencing and using the service, and reporting/blogging, while nudging at a defined and appropriate level against the target organisation. Amongst these are Sarah Wu's/Mrs Q. "Fed Up With Lunch" blog, a chronicle of her experience as an adult eating Chicago area High School lunch every day for a year, which has now been turned into a book.
- Personal: the personal blog strays into your personal life in ways in which you can be more risk taking and open in the detail. Many of these blogs hence are sexual in nature, but many also exist for those with health problems and disabilities, and how they see the world and cope with it challenges. Some of the latest personal blogs are seen by many as extended group therapy, covering issues including weight loss.
How online identity is tracked
Cookies are small pieces of data sent from a website and stored in a user's web browser while a user is browsing a website. When the user browses the same website in the future, the data stored in the cookie can be retrieved by the website to notify the website of the user's previous activity. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember the state of the website or activity the user had taken in the past. This can include clicking particular buttons, logging in, or a record of which pages were visited by the user even months or years ago. Although cookies cannot carry viruses, and cannot install malware on the host computer; tracking cookies and especially third-party tracking cookies are commonly used as way to compile long-term records of individuals' browsing histories. In itself a major privacy concern that has prompted European and US law makers to take action, cookies can be revealed to find out a blogger’s identity if not disabled.
An Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. An IP address serves two principal functions: host or network interface identification; and location addressing. Its role has been characterized as follows: "A name indicates what we seek. An address indicates where it is. A route indicates how to get there." IP addresses are binary numbers, but they are usually stored in text files and displayed in human-readable notations, such as 172.16.254.1 (for IPv4), and 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1 (for IPv6). Due to the enormous growth of the Internet and the predicted depletion of available addresses, a new addressing system (IPv6), using 128 bits for the address, was developed in 1995, standardized as RFC 2460 in 1998, and its deployment has been ongoing since the mid-2000s. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) manages the IP address space allocations globally and delegates five regional Internet registries (RIRs) to allocate IP address blocks to local Internet registries (Internet service providers) and other entities. They hence fully revealing location of the device, making IP addresses are one of the most popular ways to track and reveal identities as well as physical location.
Anonymous bloggers need to take help from a lot of tools to hide their IP addresses from being tracked easily. Typical of the attitude of internet companies, Google will only reveal an IP address identity on being served a valid court order, as they did in 2007 when the anonymous Skanks in NYC blog attacked Liskula Cohen, a 37-year-old who had modeled for Australian Vogue, Georgio Armani and Versace. In August 2009, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that Cohen was entitled to know the name of the blogger who had authored the blog, ordering Google to release the blogger's name. Cohen then filed a defamation lawsuit against the blogger, revealed as 29-year-old New York Fashion Institute of Technology student Rosemary Port, for $3 million. Port subsequently announced plans to sue Google for $15 million for breach of a fiduciary duty to protect her privacy, but has never filed any papers.
In China, while legislation and court orders do not directly exist, from 2007 a number of Chinese blog service providers signed the so-called "self-discipline" pact. The pact does not force, but rather "encourages" Internet companies to register and store the real names, addresses and other details of their users.
Google Analytics and reverse ID lookup
Google Analytics (GA) is used by many bloggers to keep track of the stats of their blogs. But GA is now threatening most bloggers through its Reverse ID Lookup tool which allow tracking what other sites or blogs the blogger maintains. Normally bloggers use the same Google ID to track their page views for every blog or site they maintain. With GA it is only a matter of minutes when a lot of information about the anonymous blogger can be retrieved.
In November 2011, technologist Andy Baio used GA to trackdown an anonymous flamethrower to his self-identified blog in under a minute. Shocked about how easy the task has been, Baio tried the same tactics with 50 random anonymous blogs, finding that 14 use Google Analytics, and 7 share the same ID: "In about 30 minutes of searching, using only Google and eWhois, I was able to discover the identities of seven of the anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers, and in two cases, their employers." Reverse lookups are now being offered by many free analytics services, which can unmask a lot of blog’s IP addresses and domain registrations.
Word and character frequency analysis
The latest forms of tracking and identifying utilise sophisticated software and systems, based on both sociological and well as psychological rules. These are based around analysis of the writers style, tracking and analysing word and character frequency analysis. These methods are presently only successfully deployed by those with access to the most sophisticated of systems, and hence due to associated cost issues, are only most successfully deployed by government level authorities and agencies.
Mostly identities are revealed because bloggers are not very technically upfront. Anonymous blogging is not restricted to just having unreal names and emails anymore. There are a lot of aspects to consider in order to protect identities from being leaked through any source. For anonymous bloggers to remain totally and genuinely anonymous they must be totally invisible, which is impossible. The biggest challenge that anonymous bloggers face is how to create delays in tracking them.
Bloggers have to ensure that there is no direct link to their real identity and the blog they maintain via the sources or tools that they are using to connect to the World Wide Web. This is especially important for the new bloggers who are not familiar with the breaking-in mechanisms of the virtual world. Flogs in Freenet, Syndie and other blogging tools in I2P and Osiris sps are some examples of anonymous blogging technologies. But as the technology is evolving the browsers and connections used by users allow a lot of ways to protect privacy. But along with this evolution there are lot of consequences that hinder the conventional use of the web.
Logging in from different IP addresses whenever it is time to post something on the blog is one way of making bloggers invisible. The concept of Onion Routing has gained much publicity being used by Wikileaks to publish government secrets. While this may seem a fruitful idea it also slows down the routing process and at times restricts user from viewing certain web pages. Most of the techniques used to protect identities relate to hiding the IP address tracking. The browsers being used are equipped with major security holes that can comprise the online identity security of the bloggers.
Techniques to stay anonymous
Where there may not be a 100% guarantee on the idea of never being discovered, there are number of ways to pursue anonymity. A few steps provide piece of mind from uninvited interference for anonymous bloggers and protecting their identities:
- Using a separate email address and separate account. It is also considered a good option to use temporary email addresses for posting to the blog.
- Anonymous blogging platforms
- Using a different host for the anonymous blog so that the IP assigned is totally separate from the one being used for real identity
- Set up separate social media accounts, such as on Twitter, Facebook, and PayPal
- Never mention others by name on your blog who could identify you. It is best practise to not mention details of friends or family on your blog.
- Don't get into arguments with fellow bloggers. In 2008 Ed Whelan of the National Review blog Bench Memos outted anonymous liberal lawyer and blogger Publius after an argument over the Sonia Sotomayor nomination.
- Some anonymous bloggers refuse to use home or work computers, only using communal places such as libraries and cyber cafes
- Make sure that privacy settings are applied on the browser, and also through the internet service provider to protect the IP address from being tracked
- Using the incognito mode on the browser can help maintain firewalls and proxy servers and also deletes the browsing history by disabling cookies
- Use either a free hosting service or pre-paid hosting service in which online payments can be avoided.
- Installing Onion routing software for not being able to track easily is essential as it helps in routing web requests through different network tunnels
- Avoid used embedded social networking controls in the blog sites like Facebook or Twitter, or the RSS feed.
- IBM discourages anonymous blogging or covert marketing, while Sun Microsystems urged employees to expose their personalities but warned that "a blog is a public place and you should avoid embarrassing your readers or the company."
- Popularity and blog awards will turn a far greater press and authority spotlight on your blog, and increase the number of investigators looking for your identity. The popular "Night Jack" UK policing blog was shutdown in 2008 after a High Court ruling stated that serving Lancashire Police constable Richard Horton had no right to anonymity. He was subsequently disciplined, and left the force. It was later revealled in 2012 by evidence given to the Leveson Inquiry that The Times journalist had illegeally hacked Horton's eMail account, much as the newspapers defence at the time denied this.
- Any internet service could be forced to reveal details under a court order.
Anonymous blogging platforms
As anonymous blogging is on an upsurge, various anonymous blogging platforms have been introduced that offer identity protection of identities for the bloggers. External techniques deployed by these platforms include encryption to block the tracking of IP addresses. The servers are encrypted, which makes it impossible for the outside interferers to intrude into the privacy of bloggers. Internally, many accept temporary eMail addresses as registration points, meaning that the platform keeps users purely anonymous by putting the blogger in charge of what to reveal and what to hide. However, this does not restrict the readers of the blog to post comments on the blog posts. The two way communication between the anonymous blogger and the reader is constant and bloggers can even use their mobile devices to send posts without their IPs getting tracked.
Early versions included Invisiblog (now ceased), and BlogACause that claimed to be “anonymous” on launch, but has since proven not to be. Anonyme.com is one of the latest technology anonymous blogging platforms, that guarantees the privacy and safety of bloggers and their blog post through a safe environment of blogging. BlogMask allows bloggers to post freely without creating an account or leaving any identifying information. Network23.org supports anonymous blogging through its implementation of Wordpress. IP addresses are not tracked but an email address is required for a blog.
As new ways of staying anonymous are being introduced such anonymous blogging platforms offer a convenient way to communicate specially for new bloggers. Those who are not technology savvy can leverage significantly through these platforms because there are no technical details involved. Users simply create their anonymous account and start blogging. These platforms provide identity security on its own, without letting the user worry about how to apply different measures of protection.
- Citizen journalism
- Privacy software and Privacy-enhancing technologies
- Pseudonymity, Pseudonymization
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- Computer Law and Security Report Volume 22 Issue 2, Pages 127-136 blogs, Lies and the Doocing by Sylvia Kierkegaard (2006)
- Legal Guide for bloggers by the Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Guide to Anonymous Blogging with WordPress & Tor