June 13, 2016
[hetzog] Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World Trailer … the official trailer for Werner Herzog’s film about the Internet … ‘Have the monks stopped meditating? They all seem to be tweeting.’ [via Kottke]
June 13, 2016
[hetzog] Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World Trailer … the official trailer for Werner Herzog’s film about the Internet … ‘Have the monks stopped meditating? They all seem to be tweeting.’ [via Kottke]
November 12, 2015
[tech] The Room Where the Internet Was Born … A visit to the place where the first messages over the internet were sent from … ‘In a strikingly accurate replica of the original IMP log (crafted by UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History) on one of the room’s period desks is a note taken at 10:30 p.m., 29 October, 1969—“talked to SRI, host to host.” In the note, there is no sense of wonder at this event—which marks the first message sent across the ARPANET, and the primary reason the room is now deemed hallowed ground.’
October 16, 2015
[internet] Nihilistic Password Security Questions … ‘What is the maiden name of your father’s mistress?’
August 28, 2015
[web] Almost None of the Women in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site… Gizmodo does some data analysis on the user data from the hacking of the Ashley Madison website … ‘When you look at the evidence, it’s hard to deny that the overwhelming majority of men using Ashley Madison weren’t having affairs. They were paying for a fantasy.’
February 2, 2015
[funny] 5 People on Etsy Who Are Clearly Serial Killers Part 1 | Part 2 …
‘Hey, remember that nightmare you had once where you wandered into that rural cult compound and everyone celebrated the arrival of an outsider by tying you to a banquet table, putting on their ceremonial animal masks, and drinking your blood from a chalice? Well, even if you don’t, this nice woman sure does, and she was really hoping you’d like to be reminded for only $30. She’s a Canadian photographer and expert in subtle terror. Objectively, there’s nothing scary about a kid wearing a plastic animal mask, and yet her pictures are so ominous, they look like something you’d find in the attic of a house no one will buy.’
January 30, 2015
[web] What the Web Said Yesterday … a New Yorker profile of the Internet Archive and Brewster Kahle …
“Every time a light blinks, someone is uploading or downloading,” Kahle explains. Six hundred thousand people use the Wayback Machine every day, conducting two thousand searches a second. “You can see it.” He smiles as he watches. “They’re glowing books!” He waves his arms. “They glow when they’re being read!”
January 14, 2015
[fake] 86 Viral Images From 2014 That Were Totally Fake … a fascinating collection of well faked images …
November 8, 2014
[net] What happens when you accidentally become internet famous? … ‘Fist clenched, a look of pure determination on his face, Success Kid is the boy who can do it all. You may have seen his face posted when someone’s particularly proud of an achievement. Success Kid’s real name is Sam Griner and the photo is one of many his mother Laney, a photographer, took of her son and posted on her Flickr page. She still remembers the day and the moment she snapped this picture…’
October 23, 2014
[internet] Twitter I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down … Quinn Norton On The Internet … ‘The net never forgets. Forgetting is a gentle process of thought and learning which the net can’t do. Losing things, which the net does plenty, is different.’
August 17, 2014
[tech] Browsing speeds may slow as net hardware bug bites… BBC News on the 512K routing bug … ‘This may come as a surprise to non-specialists who view the internet as a high-tech affair comparable to the bridge of the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame, in actuality, the internet is more akin to an 18th century Royal Navy frigate, with a lot of running about, climbing, shouting, and tugging on ropes required to maintain the desired course and speed.’
July 6, 2014
[web] Report mobile and Internet Service Providers blocking sites… what British ISP’s are blocking your website? Turns out I’m blocked by Talk Talk. ‘20% of sites tested were blocked.’
April 29, 2014
[trolling] The Compleat Troller, Or, THE ART OF TROLLING …
March 19, 2014
[internet] How to use the Internet …
March 13, 2014
[www] 25 Things You Might Not Know About The Web On Its 25th Birthday … ‘5 Tim Berners-Lee is Gutenberg’s true heir – In 1455, with his revolution in printing, Johannes Gutenberg single-handedly launched a transformation in mankind’s communications environment – a transformation that has shaped human society ever since. Berners-Lee is the first individual since then to have done anything comparable.’
February 22, 2014
[tv] What happens at Netflix when House of Cards goes live … ‘Edberg said the last time House of Cards launched, the engineers figured out that the entire season was about 13 hours. “And we looked to [see] if anybody was finishing in that amount of time,” Edberg said. “And there was one person who finished with just three minutes longer than there is content. So basically, three total minutes of break in roughly 13 hours.”‘
January 19, 2014
[web] Have I Been Pwned? … a service that allows you to check if any of your usernames or passwords been compromised in recent website security breaches.
January 15, 2014
[internet] Cicada 3301: I tried the hardest puzzle on the internet and failed spectacularly … more on the mysterious internet puzzle that restarted recently … ‘The image included text hidden with steganography, a technique which lets users bury information in seemingly innocuous files. To get the information out required me to use a program called OutGuess. To install OutGuess, I need to compile the program from source. To do that, I need to install Xcode, the Mac OS X developer tools, create a new command line project based on the source code I downloaded, reconfigure the program for Mac, deal with any dependency issues, build it, and then run it from the terminal. What I actually do is spend the better part of an hour clicking around in Xcode, desperately trying to find a magic button to click which will make everything work without requiring me to learn how to code in an afternoon. There is no such button. This may be harder than I thought.’
December 18, 2013
[mystery] The Internet Mystery That Has The World Baffled … the fascinating story of a complex internet hunt / puzzle that nobody knows who created. ‘…a scavenger hunt that has led thousands of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the “darknet”. So far, the hunt has required a knowledge of number theory, philosophy and classical music. An interest in both cyberpunk literature and the Victorian occult has also come in handy as has an understanding of Mayan numerology. It has also featured a poem, a tuneless guitar ditty, a femme fatale called “Wind” who may, or may not, exist in real life, and a clue on a lamp post in Hawaii. Only one thing is certain: as it stands, no one is entirely sure what the challenge – known as Cicada 3301 – is all about or who is behind it.’
November 14, 2013
[work] Hyperemployment, or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User … Whatever happened to Keynes idea of a Leisure Society? ‘The economic impact of hyperemployment is obviously different from that of underemployment, but some of the same emotional toll imbues both: a sense of inundation, of being trounced by demands whose completion yields only their continuance, and a feeling of resignation that any other scenario is likely or even possible. The only difference between the despair of hyperemployment and that of un- or under-employment is that the latter at least acknowledges itself as an substandard condition, while the former celebrates the hyperemployed’s purported freedom to “share” and “connect,” to do business more easily and effectively by doing jobs once left for others competence and compensation, from the convenience of your car or toilet.’
November 12, 2013
[internet] Netflix Has Taken a Huge Bite Out of File Sharing … interesting look at what’s being downloaded on the Internet these days … ‘BitTorrent, the report notes, now accounts for only 7.4 percent of traffic during peak period, while file-sharing in general hovers below 10 percent. And that’s a sharp drop—only five years ago, BitTorrent managed to draw 31 percent of daily streaming traffic and even twice that 10 years ago.’
September 11, 2013
[web] The Pinterest Skeptics Board … pushing back at fake, misleading or wrong quotes on Pinterest.
June 20, 2013
[tech] Internet Anonymity Is The Height Of Chic … A look at the plausibility of remaining anonymous from Google and the Internet … ‘In the 1930s, HG Wells wrote of a “world brain” through which “the whole human memory can be … made accessible to every individual”. Today, perhaps we have that world brain, and it is called Google. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of internet governance and regulation at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, sounds an Orwellian note about this: “Quite literally, Google knows more about us than we can remember ourselves.” No wonder some dream of slipping under Google’s radar.’
October 16, 2012
[webstalking] Find that fireball! When journalist turns stalker … fascinating demonstration of efficient webstalking … ‘Back to the video for more clues. As the camera panned across the garden, we saw palm trees come into view – not so common in New York, perhaps, but pretty ubiquitous in Florida. We honed in on Naples, Florida. The knowledge database Wolfram Alpha returned the weather report below for Naples, Florida on the date the video was uploaded (October 5), and the word thunderstorm leaped out.’
September 19, 2012
[blogging] Pinterest, Tumblr and the Trouble With ‘Curation’ … some thoughts on what you do when you blog with a Pinterest or Tumblr …
Silbermann suggests that collecting online is a form of self-expression for people who don’t create. “If you walk around Brooklyn and ask people how they express themselves,” he said in a speech at New York University, “everyone’s a musician or an artist or a filmmaker. But most of us aren’t that interesting. Most of us are just consumers of that. And when we collect things and when we share those collections with people, that’s how we show who we are in the world.”
August 7, 2012
[security] How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking … a sobering look at how one man’s digital life – Google Account, Apple Account – was compromised and his iPhone and Mac were remotely wiped … ‘I asked him why. Was I targeted specifically? Was this just to get to Gizmodo’s Twitter account? No, Phobia said they hadn’t even been aware that my account was linked to Gizmodo’s, that the Gizmodo linkage was just gravy. He said the hack was simply a grab for my three-character Twitter handle. That’s all they wanted. They just wanted to take it, and fuck shit up, and watch it burn. It wasn’t personal.’
July 23, 2012
[blogs] This is a reblog of Brooke Magnanti’s terrific how-to guide on blogging anonymously. I gather that someone is trying to get this post removed from Blogspot. I have no doubt that Brooke has every right to publish it and that she wrote this based on her unique blogging experiences as Belle de Jour. I read recently about a British publisher that has started a legal action against Twitter to discover the individual behind an spoof account that parodied their CEO. In situations like this Brooke’s guide is useful, timely and deserves a wide audience. – Darren/LMG.
How To Blog Anonymously (and how not to)
by Brooke Magnanti
It’s not up to me to decide if you “deserve” to be anonymous. My feeling is, if you’re starting out as a writer and do not yet feel comfortable writing under your own name, that is your business and not mine. I also think sex workers should consider starting from a position of anonymity and decide later if they want to be out, please don’t be naive. Statistics I made up right now show 99 out of 100 people who claim ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ are talking out of their arses.
The items in the list fall into three general categories: internet- based, legal and real-world tips, and interpersonal. Many straddle more than one of these categories. All three are important.
This is written for a general audience because most people who blog now do not have extensive technical knowledge, they just want to write and be read. That’s a good thing by the way. If you already know all of this, then great, but many people won’t. Don’t be sneery about their lack of prior knowledge. Bringing everyone up to speed on the technology is not the goal: clear steps you can use to help protect your identity from being discovered are.
Disclaimer: I’m no longer anonymous so these steps are clearly not airtight. Also there are other sources of information on the Web, some of which are more comprehensive and more current than my advice. I accept no responsibility for any outcome of following this advice. Please don’t use it to do illegal or highly sensitive things. Also please don’t use pseudonyms to be a dick.
This is also a work in progress. As I remember things or particular details, I’ll amend this post. If you have suggestions of things that should be added, let me know.
1. Don’t use Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail et al. for your mail.
You will need an email address to do things like register for blog accounts, Facebook, Twitter, and more. This email will have to be something entirely separate from your “real” email addresses. There are a lot of free options out there, but be aware that sending an email from many of them also sends information in the headers that could help identify you.
When I started blogging, I set up an email address for the blog with Hotmail. Don’t do this. Someone quickly pointed out the headers revealed where I worked (a very large place with lots of people and even more computers, but still more information than I was comfortable with). They suggested I use Hushmail instead, which I still use. Hushmail has a free option (though the inbox allocation is modest), strips out headers, and worked for me.
A caveat with this: if you are, say, a sex worker working in a place where that is not legal and using Hushmail, you could be vulnerable to them handing over your details to a third party investigating crimes. If you’re handling information some governments might consider embarrassing or sensitive, same. Google some alternatives: you’re looking for something secu re and encrypted.
There are a few common-sense tips you can follow to make it even safer. If you have to bring people you know in real life in on the secret, don’t use this email address for communicating with them even if only about matters related to your secret (and don’t use your existing addresses for that either). Example: I have one address for press and general interactions, one for things related to my accountant and money, and one for communicating with my agent, publisher, and solicitor. I’ve also closed and opened new accounts over the years when it seems “too many” people are getting hold of a particular address. Use different passwords for each, don’t make these passwords related to your personal information, and so on.
I unwisely left the Hotmail address going, and while I did not use it to send mail, I continued to read things that arrived there. That led to this failed attempt by the Sunday Times to out me. It was an easily dodged attempt but something I would have preferred to avoid.
Over the years I have had about two email account changes every year and have changed my mobile number five times (eventually, I just stopped having one). If you change email addresses it’s a good idea to send people you need to stay in contact with a mail from the old and the new address so they know it’s not someone else trying to impersonate you. And to have a password so you know the response is from the right person – a password you did not exchange via an email conversation, of course. Example: you might send an email to your editor from firstname.lastname@example.org and from email@example.com at the same time, and the one from new_address contains Codeword1. They respond with Codeword2, indicating they acknowledge the change.
It sounds silly, but people can and do scam personal info all the time. Often they do so by pretending to be in on a secret so someone reveals something they did not mean to say. Play it safe. It can feel a stupidly cloak-and-dagger at first, but you soon get over it.
You can register internet domains while staying anonymous but I never did. Some people registered domains for me (people I didn’t know in person). This led to a couple of instances of them receiving harassment when the press suspected they were me. In particular Ian Shircore got a bit of unwanted attention this way.
Because all I was ever doing was a straight-up blog, not having a registered domain that I had control over was fine. Your needs may be different. I am not a good source for advice on how to do that. But just in case you might be thinking “who would bother looking there?” read about how faux escort Alexa DiCarlo was unmasked. This is what happens when you don’t cover your tracks.
2. Don’t use a home internet connection, work internet connection, etc.
Email won’t be the only way you might want to communicate with people. You may also want to leave comments on other blogs and so forth. Doing this and other ways of using the Web potentially exposes your IP address, which could be unique and be used to locate you.
Even if you don’t leave comments just visiting a site can leave traces behind. Tim Ireland recently used a simple method to confirm his suspicion of who the “Tabloid Troll” twitter account belonged to. By comparing the IP address of someone who clicked on to a link going to the Bloggerheads site with the IP address of an email Dennis Rice sent, a link was made. If you go to the trouble of not using your own connection, also make sure you’re not using the same connection for different identities just minutes apart. Don’t mix the streams.
The timing of everything as it happened was key to why the papers did not immediately find out who I was. The old blog started in 2003, when most press still had to explain to their audience what a blog actually was. It took a while for people to notice the writing, so the mistakes I made early on (blogging from home and work, using Hotmail) had long been corrected by the time the press became interested.
Today, no writer who aims to stay anonymous should ever assume a grace period like that. It also helped that once the press did become interested, they were so convinced not only that Belle was not really a hooker but also that she was one of their own – a previously published author or even journalist – that they never looked in the right place. If they’d just gone to a London blogmeet and asked a few questions about who had pissed off a lot of people and was fairly promiscuous, they’d have had a plausible shortlist in minutes.
After I moved from Kilburn to Putney, I was no longer using a home internet connection – something I should have done right from the beginning. I started to use internet cafes for posting and other activities as Belle. This offers some security… but be wary of using these places too often if there is a reason to think someone is actively looking for you. It’s not perfect.
Also be wary if you are using a laptop or other machine provided by your workplace, or use your own laptop to log in to work servers (“work remotely”). I’ve not been in that situation and am not in any way an expert on VPNs , but you may want to start reading about it here and do some googling for starters. As a general principle, it’s probably wise not to do anything on a work laptop that could get you fired, and don’t do anything that could get you fired while also connected to work remotely on your own machine.
3. There is software available that can mask your IP address. There are helpful add-ons that can block tracking software.
I didn’t use this when I was anonymous, but if I was starting as an anonymous blogger now, I would download Tor and browse the Web and check email through their tools.
If you do use Tor or other software to mask your IP address, don’t then go on tweeting about where your IP address is coming from today! I’ve seen people do this. Discretion fail.
I also use Ghostery now to block certain tracking scripts from web pages. You will want to look into something similar. Also useful are Adblocker, pop-up blockers, things like that. They are simple to download and use and you might like to use them anyway even if you’re not an anonymous blogger. A lot of sites track your movements and you clearly don’t want that.
4. Take the usual at-home precautions.
Is your computer password-protected with a password only you know? Do you clear your browser history regularly? Use different passwords for different accounts? Threats to anonymity can come from people close to you. Log out of your blog and email accounts when you’re finished using them, every time. Have a secure and remote backup of your writing. Buy a shredder and use it. Standard stuff.
Sometimes the files you send can reveal things about yourself, your computer, and so on. When sending manuscripts to my agent and editor, they were usually sent chapter by chapter as flat text files – not Word documents – with identifying data stripped. The usual method I used to get things to them was to upload to a free service that didn’t require a login, such as Sendspace. When writing articles for magaznes and papers, the text was typically appended straight into the body of the email, again avoiding attachments with potentially identifying information. This can be a little irritating… having to archive your writing separately, not altogether convenient to work on. But for the way I worked, usually not sharing content with editors until it was close to the final draft, it was fine.
When exchanging emails with my agent and editor, we never talked about actual meeting times and locations and threw a few decoy statements in, just in case. Since it has been recently revealed that Times journalists were trying to hack bloggers’ email addresses after all, in retrospect, this seems to have been a good thing.
Another thing I would do is install a keystroke logger on your own machine. By doing this I found out in 2004 that someone close to me was spying on me when they were left alone with my computer. In retrospect what I did about it was not the right approach. See also item 7.
5. Be careful what you post.
Are you posting photos? Exif data can tell people, among other things, where and when a picture was taken, what it was taken with, and more. I never had call to use it because I never posted photos or sound, but am told there are loads of tools that can wipe this Exif data from your pictures (here’s one).
The content of what you post can be a giveaway as well. Are you linking to people you know in real life? Are you making in-jokes or references to things only a small group of people will know about? Don’t do that.
If possible, cover your tracks. Do you have a previous blog under a known name? Are you a contributor to forums where your preferred content and writing style are well-known? Can you edit or delete these things? Good, do that.
Personally, I did not delete everything. Partly this was because the world of British weblogging was so small at the time – a few hundred popular users, maybe a couple thousand people blogging tops? – that I thought the sudden disappearance of my old blog coinciding with the appearance of an unrelated new one might be too much of a coincidence. But I did let the old site go quiet for a bit before deleting it, and edited archived entries.
Keep in mind however that The Wayback Machine means everything you have written on the web that has been indexed still exists. And it’s searchable. Someone who already has half an idea where to start looking for you won’t have too much trouble finding your writing history. (UPDATE: someone alerted me that it’s possible to get your own sites off Wayback by altering the robots.txt file – and even prevent them appearing there in the first place – and to make a formal request for removal using reasons listed here. This does not seem to apply to sites you personally have no control over unless copyright issues are involved.) If you can put one more step between them and you… do it.
6. Resist temptation to let too many people in.
If your writing goes well, people may want to meet you. They could want to buy you drinks, give you free tickets to an opening. Don’t say yes. While most people are honest in their intentions, some are not. And even the ones who are may not have taken the security you have to keep your details safe. Remember, no one is as interested in protecting your anonymity as you will be.
Friends and family were almost all unaware of my secret – both the sex work and the writing. Even my best friend (A4 from the books) didn’t know. ;
I met very few people “as” Belle. There were some who had to meet me: agent, accountant, editor. I never went to the Orion offices until after my identity became known. I met Billie Piper, Lucy Prebble, and a couple of writers during the pre-production of Secret Diary at someone’s house, but met almost no one else involved with the show. Paul Duane and Avril MacRory met me and were absolutely discreet. I went to the agent’s office a few times but never made an appointment as Belle or in my real name. Most of the staff there had no idea who I was. Of these people who did meet me almost none knew my real name, where I lived, where I was from, my occupation. Only one (the accountant) knew all of that – explained below under point 9. And if I could have gotten away with him never seeing a copy of my passport, I damn well would have done.
The idea was that if people don’t know anything they can’t inadvertently give it away. I know that all of the people listed above were absolutely trustworthy. I still didn’t tell them anything a journalist would have considered useful.
When I started blogging someone once commented that my blog was a “missed opportunity” because it didn’t link to an agency website or any way of booking my services. Well, duh. I didn’t want clients to meet me through the blog! If you are a sex worker who wants to preserve a level of pseudonymity and link your public profile to your work, Amanda Brooks has the advice you need. Not me.
Other sources like JJ Luna write about how to do things like get and use credit cards not tied to your name and address. I’ve heard Entropay offer ‘virtual’ credit cards that are not tied to your credit history, although they can’t be used with any system that requires address verification. This could be useful even for people who are not involved in sex work.
Resisting temptation sometimes means turning down something you’d really like to do. The short-term gain of giving up details for a writing prize or some immediate work may not be worth the long-term loss of privacy. I heard about one formerly anonymous blogger who was outed after giving their full name and address to a journalist who asked for it when they entered a competition. File under: how not to stay anonymous.
7. Trust your intuition.
I have to be careful what I say here. In short, my identity became known to a tabloid paper and someone whom I had good reason not to trust (see item 4) gave them a lot of information about me.
When your intuition tells you not to trust someone, LISTEN TO IT. The best security in the world fails if someone props open a door, leaves a letter on the table, or mentally overrides the concern that someone who betrayed you before could do so again. People you don’t trust should be ejected from your life firmly and without compromise. A “let them down easy” approach only prolongs any revenge they might carry out and probably makes it worse. The irony is that as a call girl I relied on intuition and having strong personal boundaries all the time… but failed to carry that ability over into my private life. If there is one thing in my life I regret, the failure to act on my intuition is it.
As an aside if you have not read The Gift of Fear already, get it and read it.
See also point 9: if and when you need people to help you keep the secret don’t make it people already involved in your private life. Relationships can cloud good judgement in business decisions.
There is a very droll saying “Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.” It’s not wrong. I know, I know. Paranoid. Hard not to be when journos a few years later are digging through the rubbish of folks who met you exactly once when you were sixteen. Them’s the breaks.
8. Consider the consequences of success.
If you find yourself being offered book deals or similar, think it through. Simply by publishing anonymously you will become a target. Some people assume all anonymous writers “want” to be found, and the media in particular will jump through some very interesting hurdles to “prove” anything they write about you is in the public interest.
In particular, if you are a sex worker, and especially if you are a sex worker who is visible/bookable through your site, please give careful consideration to moving out of that sphere. Even where sex for money is legal it is still a very stigmatised activity. There are a number of people who do not seem to have realised this, and the loss of a career when they left the “sex-pos” bubble was probably something of a shock. I’m not saying don’t do it – but please think long and hard about the potential this has to change your life and whether you are fully prepared to be identified this way forever. For every Diablo Cody there are probably dozens of Melissa Petros. For every Melissa Petro there are probably hundreds more people with a sex industry past who get quietly fired and we don’t ever hear from them.
If I knew going in to the first book deal what would happen, I probably would have said no. I’m glad I didn’t by the way – but realistically, my life was stressful enough at that point and I did not fully understand what publishing would add to that. Not many bloggers had mainstream books at that point (arguably none in the UK) so I didn’t have anyone else’s experience to rely on. I really had no idea about what was going to happen. The things people wrote about me then were mainly untrue and usually horrendous. Not a lot has changed even now. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t have an emotional effect.
Writing anonymously and being outed has happened often enough that people going into it should consider the consequences. I’m not saying don’t do it if you risk something, but be honest with yourself about the worst possible outcome and whether you would be okay with that.
9. ; Enlist professional help to get paid and sign contracts.
Having decided to write a book, I needed an agent. The irony of being anonymous was that while I let as few people in on it as possible, at some point I was going to have to take a leap of faith and let in more. Mil Millington emailed me to recommend Patrick Walsh, saying he was one of the few people in London who can be trusted. Mil was right.
Patrick put me on to my accountant (who had experience of clients with, shall we say, unusual sources of income). From there we cooked up a plan so that contracts could be signed without my name ever gracing a piece of paper. Asking someone to keep a secret when there’s a paper trail sounds like it should be possible but rarely is. Don’t kid yourself, there is no such thing as a unbreakable confidentiality agreement. Asking journalists and reviewers to sign one about your book is like waving a red rag to a bull. What we needed was a few buffers between me and the press.
With Patrick and Michael acting as directors, a company was set up – Bizrealm. I was not on the paperwork as a director so my name never went on file with Companies House. Rather, with the others acting as directors, signing necessary paperwork, etc., Patrick held a share in trust for me off of which dividends were drawn and this is how I got paid. I may have got some of these details wrong, by the way – keep in mind, I don’t deal with Bizrealm’s day-to-day at all.
There are drawbacks to doing things this way: you pay for someone’s time, in this case the accountant, to create and administer the company. You can not avoid tax and lots of it. (Granted, drawing dividends is more tax-efficient, but still.) You have to trust a couple of people ABSOLUTELY. I’d underline this a thousand times if I could. Michael for instance is the one person who always knew, and continues to know, everything about my financial and personal affairs. Even Patrick doesn’t know everything.
There are benefits though, as well. Because the money stays mainly in the company and is not paid to me, it gets eked out over time, making tax bills manageable, investment more constant, and keeping me from the temptation to go mad and spend it.
I can’t stress enough that you might trust your friends and family to the ends of the earth, but they should not be the people who do this for you. Firstly, because they can be traced to you (they know you in a non-professional way). Secondly, because this is a very stressful setup and you need the people handling it to be on the ball. As great as friends and family are that is probably not the kind of stress you want to add to your relationship. I have heard far too many stories of sex workers and others being betrayed by ex- partners who knew the details of their business dealings to ever think that’s a good idea.
So how do you know you can trust these people? We’ve all heard stories of musicians and other artists getting ripped off by management, right? All I can say is instinct. It would not have been in Patrick’s interest to grass me, since as my agent he took a portion of my earnings anyway, and therefore had financial as well as personal interest in protecting that. If he betrayed me he would also have suffered a loss of reputation that potentially outweighed any gain. Also, as most people who know him will agree, he’s a really nice and sane human being. Same with Michael.
If this setup sounds weirdly paranoid, let me assure you that journalists absolutely did go to Michael’s office and ask to see the Bizrealm paperwork, and Patrick absolutely did have people going through his bins, trying to infiltrate his office as interns, and so on. Without the protection of being a silent partner in the company those attempts to uncover me might have worked.
I communicate with some writers and would-be writers who do not seem to have agents. If you are serious about writing, and if you are serious about staying anonymous, get an agent. Shop around, follow your instinct, and make sure it’s someone you can trust. Don’t be afraid to dump an agent, lawyer, or anyone else if you don’t trust them utterly. They’re professionals and shouldn’t take it personally.
10. Don’t break the (tax) law.
Journalists being interested in your identity is one thing. What you really don’t want is the police or worse, the tax man, after you. Pay your taxes and try not to break the law if it can be helped. If you’re a sex worker blogging about it, get an accountant who has worked with sex workers before – this is applicable even if you live somewhere sex work is not strictly legal. Remember, Al Capone went down for tax evasion. Don’t be like Al. If you are a non-sex-work blogger who is earning money from clickthroughs and affiliates on your site, declare this income.
In summer 2010 the HMRC started a serious fraud investigation of me. It has been almost two years and is only just wrapping up, with the Revenue finally satisfied that not only did I declare (and possibly overdeclare) my income as a call girl, but that there were no other sources of income hidden from them. They have turned my life and financial history upside down to discover next to nothing new about me. This has been an expensive and tedious process. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like had I not filed the relevant forms, paid the appropriate taxes, and most of all had an accountant to deal with them!
Bottom line, you may be smart – I’m pretty good with numbers myself – – but people whose job it is to know about tax law, negotiating contracts, and so on will be better at that than you are. Let them do it. They are worth every penny.
11. Do interviews with care.
Early interviews were all conducted one of two ways: over email (encrypted) or over an IRC chatroom from an anonymising server (I used xs4all). This was not ideal from their point of view, and I had to coach a lot of people in IRC which most of them had never heard of. But again, it’s worth it, since no one in the press will be as interested in protecting your identity as you are. I hope it goes without saying, don’t give out your phone number.
12. Know when les jeux sont faits.
In November 2009 – 6 years after I first started blogging anonymously – my identity was revealed.
As has been documented elsewhere, I had a few heads-ups that something was coming, that it was not going to be nice, and that it was not going to go away. We did what we could to put off the inevitable but it became clear I only had one of two choices: let the Mail on Sunday have first crack at running their sordid little tales, or pre-empt them.
While going to the Sunday Times – the same paper that had forcibly outed Zoe Margolis a few years earlier, tried to get my details through that old Hotmail address, and incorrectly fingered Sarah Champion as me – was perhaps not the most sensitive choice, it was for me the right move. Patrick recommended that we contact an interviewer who had not been a Belle-believer: if things were going to be hard, best get that out of the way up front.
So that is that. It’s a bit odd how quickly things have changed. When I started blogging I little imagined I would be writing books, much less something like this. Being a kind of elder statesman of blogging (or cantankerous old grump if you prefer) is not an entirely comfortable position and one that is still new to me. But it is also interesting to note how little has changed: things that worked in the early 2000s have value today. The field expanded rapidly but the technology has not yet changed all that much.
As before, these ideas do not constitute a foolproof way to protect your identity. All writers – whether writing under their own names or not – should be aware of the risks they may incur by hitting ‘publish’. I hope this post at least goes some way to making people think about how they might be identified, and starts them on a path of taking necessary (and in many cases straightforward) precautions, should they choose to be anonymous.
September 26, 2011
[web] The Relative Sizes of the World’s Largest Photo Libraries: ‘…this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook, suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there.’
July 3, 2011
June 29, 2011
[internet] Social Fax Machines … James Shelley On Social Media … ‘Imagine that you were one of 300 people with fax machines. Each one of you program your respective machines to carbon copy every fax to all 299 other machines. Then, together, you go about your day diligently reading the faxes that pour in.’ [via Sore Eyes]
May 9, 2011
[email] Legal Disclaimers: Spare Us The E-mail Yada-Yada … Legal disclaimers at the bottom of e-mail’s are useless … ‘They are assumed to be a wise precaution. But they are mostly, legally speaking, pointless. Lawyers and experts on internet policy say no court case has ever turned on the presence or absence of such an automatic e-mail footer in America, the most litigious of rich countries. Many disclaimers are, in effect, seeking to impose a contractual obligation unilaterally, and thus are probably unenforceable.’
May 4, 2011
[life] Suburban woman is sued after elaborate online hoax … ‘Every decade or so I get a taste to pose as a man (and up to 20 other people simultaneously) and reel me in some juicy middle-aged woman flesh…’
February 23, 2011
[internet] 7 Chrome Annoyances and How to Fix Them … some useful tips for Google Chrome.
February 18, 2011
[internet] Egypt’s Autocrats Exploited Internet’s Weaknesses … some patchy details on how Egypt pulled the plug on the Internet …
‘After the Internet collapsed, Mr. ElShabrawy, 35, whose company provides Internet service to 2,000 subscribers and develops software for foreign and domestic customers, made urgent inquiries with the Ministry of Communications, to no avail. So he scrambled to re-establish his own communications.
February 15, 2011
[internet] Cyberspace When You’re Dead … ever wondered what happens to the stuff you uploaded to the internet after you die? …
Lustig pointed me to a recent corporate study that identified “chief memory officer” as a kind of unofficial role taken on by someone (often mom) in many families — the person who is paying attention to the idea that there may be no physical scrapbook or set of journals to hand down to future generations and that bits-and-bytes memory objects need to be preserved somehow.
January 26, 2011
[books] How Novels Came To Terms With The Internet … ‘It is what the internet lures out of us – hubris, daydreams, avarice, obsessions – that makes it so potent and so volatile. TV’s power is serenely impervious; it does all the talking, and we can only listen or turn it off. But the internet is at least partly us; we write it as well as read it, perform for it as well as watch it, create it as well as consume it. Watching TV is a solitary activity that feels like a communal one, while the internet is a communal experience masquerading as solitude.’
January 25, 2011
[internet] Five Emotions Invented By The Internet … ‘The state of being ‘installed’ at a computer or laptop for an extended period of time without purpose, characterized by a blurry, formless anxiety undercut with something hard like desperation.’
December 30, 2010
[internet] Yahoo!locaust … Jason Scott’s view on Yahoo and Delicious … ‘Obviously “sunset” got the most attention, because that’s the kind of mealy-mouthed language one would expect out of assholes. It’s the same thinking that took “mass firings” to “downsizing” and then made it “rightsizing” because they thought “downsizing” was too negative. Those sort of assholes. The kind that run Yahoo!, in other words.’
December 29, 2010
[email] American Charged With Hacking After Snooping On Wife’s Emails … ‘Walker was charged after opening the Gmail account of his wife, Clara, who was married twice previously. Walker found she was having an affair with her second husband, who had once been arrested for beating her in front of her young son from her first husband. Walker handed the emails over to the boy’s father, saying he was concerned for the child’s safety. The father sought custody.’
December 27, 2010
[wikileaks] Wikileaks Exposes Internet’s Dissent Tax, not Nerd Supremacy … ‘Ability to disseminate one’s ideas on the Internet is now a sine qua non of inclusion in the global public sphere. However, the Internet is not a true public sphere; it is a public sphere erected on private property, what I have dubbed a “quasi-public sphere,” where the property owners can sideline and constrain dissent.’
December 8, 2010
November 4, 2010
[archive] A Paper Internet … how to archive the internet … ‘The makeup of our capsule is simple: cellulose, carbon, polymers, and distributed information. You print a bundle of paper, place it inside a box, stick a label on it, then drown it in translucent epoxy resin.’
November 3, 2010
[people] Is Margaret Thatcher Dead Yet? … possibly the only single serving site hated by the Daily Mail so I feel compelled to link to it … ‘She’s out of hospital. Put the kettle on.’
October 27, 2010
[twitter] Inference … interesting look at how to passively geo-stalk your friends … ‘I just wanted to document this for future reference. Certainly not as some impressive moment of Holmesian deduction, or some dire warning about the leaking of personal information. Just as a moment of oddness. That choosing to give away one piece of information publicly, allows accurate inference of other things. Something that has always been true, but for which a new dimension has been introduced.’
October 10, 2010
September 7, 2010
[joke] How many SEO experts does it take to change a light bulb, lightbulb, light, bulb, lamp, lighting, switch, sex, xxx, hardcore? [twitter]
August 26, 2010
[internet] The Acceleration of Addictiveness … Paul Graham on internet addiction (amongst other things) … ‘Several people have told me they like the iPad because it lets them bring the Internet into situations where a laptop would be too conspicuous. In other words, it’s a hip flask.’
August 20, 2010
[internet] Human-flesh Search Engines in China … fascinating look at online vigilantes in China who use the internet to track down perceived wrong-doers and punish them … ‘Chali was moved by the powerful feeling that Wang shouldn’t be allowed to escape censure for his role in his wife’s suicide. “I want to know what is going to happen if I get married and have a similar experience,” Chali says. “I want to know if the law or something could protect me and give me some kind of security.” It struck me as an unusual wish — that the law could guard her from heartbreak.’ [via Sore Eyes]
August 15, 2010
[internet] What’s the carbon footprint of… the internet? … ‘If we decided (somewhat arbitrarily) that half of the emissions from all these laptop and desktop machines were down to internet-based activity, and then add on the emissions from the data centres that make all this online activity possible, then the internet would clock in at around 1% of all the CO2 emissions released from burning fossil fuels. Put another way, the internet releases around 300m tonnes of CO2 – as much as all the coal, oil and gas burned in Turkey or Poland in one year, or more than half of those burned in the UK.’
July 10, 2010
[funny] Columbo Box Set … ‘I bring pornographic pictures… and the opinions of angry children!’