Anonymity – Can you Find out Where I Live?

I sometimes write about stuff that gets people riled up. Really really pissed off. I know this because of the amount of abuse I sometimes get in the comments. But I don’t mind. I don’t care. Words are just words and I always let a comment stand if it has even a passing acquaintance with the subject of my post. I’ve only ever moderated a handful of comments that are just plain, repeated abuse containing no reference to the discussion.

Anonymous Online

Anonymous Online

Occasionally I get threats and this makes people around me worry that they’re gonna be collateral damage when I get a bullet through my head :D. Quite a few posts of mine have generated this kind of outrage such as this one. Now I blog in a kind of semi anonymity. My name, face and general location is there for everyone to see. But it’s not so easy to find out where I live. I allow people to know that I’m in Chennai, but nothing more. I regularly ask people to try and find out where I live if they can. I attempt to cover my tracks and make sure that information never gets out. Go ahead and try and uncover it if you want. I’ll be grateful if you expose any slip up that I can correct.

There has been a shift recently in the online world with governments and corporations wanting us to use our real identities online and for different reasons. Governments like to intimidate people and it can’t do that unless they know who you are. China has now come up with rules stating that everyone has register their real name and address with their ISP even when they’re commenting anonymously on blogs *shudder*. Corporations on the other hand want to know as much as they can about you to target you for advertisements and special promotions.

But anonymity on the Internet has never been more important. Examples from India abound. The two girls who were illegally arrested for a harmless arrest and “Like” on Facebook are just one example. True, being anonymous can also bring out the worst in people. They’re more likely to verbally abuse others. But it’s a price that I for one am willing to put up with. I can separate the wheat from the chaff easily enough.

On the other hand, standing up proudly for your opinions is important too. Saying “This is me, and these are my opinions”. We have a culture of shame in India. Nothing puzzles me more than how victims of rape cover up their faces so we won’t know who they are. Why? They have done nothing wrong! They don’t need to be ashamed of anything! If you were bitten by a rabid dog you won’t cover up your face and be ashamed will you? Even those girls who were arrested for their Facebook comments on Bal Thackeray had their faces covered. Why?? Not only should they have shown their faces proudly, they needn’t have apologized either. They should have said – “This is who I am, and these are my opinions. Suck it up.” As it was, they were harassed even after “apologizing”. So what’s the use?

So for those of you who have blogs – how easy is it to find out who you are, and what are your reasons for keeping your identity a secret?

Comments

  1. Ketan says:

    Interesting post!

    I’ve thought about anonymity over the internet quite often. :) I’ve somehow never used it as far as I remember. I do venture out to provide information about myself quite easily. But on the other hand, I tend to be careful about my ‘exact’ location. Over twitter, quite a few people know what I do professionally, more or less where I live in Mumbai, but I would have a great mental barrier to let out which railway stations I board from or alight at. :D Most of that is an outcome of fear bordering on paranoia.

    I know my views on theism and organized religions are pretty unpalatable to a sizable fraction of the population – that’s the strongest reason. I would not want to be hurt physically. And I *am* quite more afraid of litigation on account of my critique of religions, government policies and also certain aspects of the Constitution, but that I tend to keep more calibrated. Because if I were to become a target of litigation, my address and location would be sought using *legal means*, and there is going to be no escaping from that. Not to mention, my career would be destroyed forever. The last one is no mean fear at all! Imagine, years and years of education going waste if I were to be convicted (problems with police verification wherever it were to be involved – like getting into government organizations, processing of passport application, etc.). Incidentally, last one is the fear that prevents most ‘middle class’ people from taking ‘the Law into their hands’. Isn’t it curious that simply using ones freedom of expression to state what one feels like can be construed as taking the Law in ones hands – depending on how the things in question are interpreted? :)

    So, the strongest reason I never use anonymity is I don’t even know if it will work! Second, awareness that what I express online can be tracked to its source acts as a -self-check of sorts. Third, is mildly ideological+emotional. Ideological, as in how you described it: ““This is who I am, and these are my opinions. Suck it up.”” [The girl in question might've been afraid of the Shiv Sena members]. But more than ideological, I think it’s a bit of narcissism. :D Whenever I revisit words conjured up by my mind, I would like to see them associated with my photograph or one of the user names associated with me. :D

    However, I truly very much respect those (and unfortunately they are very, very few) who remain anonymous and yet truly objective and courteous to serious readers at all times.

    As an aside, being an Indian (having never visited the Western hemisphere) it’s quite amusing how the most fiercely commented upon post on your blog is one on tipping. :D

    • bhagwad says:

      My tipping post is coming close to 1000 comments – and many other sites have reposted it usually to howls of outrage from US waiters :D. Some of them wanted to “shame” me into removing it. All I can say is that won’t work on me!

      Luckily my job is not dependent on anyone so I can’t be fired for what I say. It really sucks to live under this fear in India. Let’s hope the Supreme Court which is hearing PILs against the stupid IT laws strikes them down…

      Incidentally if I ever wish to do so, I can create a completely anonymous blog. No one – not even the US or Indian government will be able to track me down were I to set it up that way. It’s just that I’m proud of my opinions and see no need to hide myself.

  2. Ketan says:

    It’s just not the IT laws that I fear. I’m more worried of how the Preamble to the Constitution, the National flag, the National Anthem, the ‘Father of the Nation’ – are all considered sacrosanct and effectively above scrutiny.

    And, now you made me jealous! :| Of both your IT know how and your independence from ‘employers’. :D

    • bhagwad says:

      There’s a sorta easy way to remain anonymous if you don’t want to take too much trouble. It’s not foolproof. Google fights for its users privacy and even fights court summons when they feel that the blogger hasn’t done anything wrong.

      Not safe to rely on a third party like that, but they do have a track record.

      If you truly want to be safe, use a VPN hosted in Sweden or Switzerland that doesn’t keep IP records. That’s a bit of an overkill though :) – it’s unlikely the Indian government would risk complete severance of ties and diplomatic relations with a foreign country just to find out who I am :) . And even then it’d probably be impossible.

  3. I was anonymous for a long time – but some personal information was available. Now I think I am easy to locate… I would definitely have preferred anonymity.

  4. Ash says:

    Anonymity is best.

  5. Fem says:

    Anonymous, of course! I don’t mind building up relationships and then exposing myself, but I don’t want myself exposed to any idiot out there.

  6. ISOTC says:

    For me concerns about anonymity surfaced when I started commenting on blogs. I have always been quite easily traceable through my blog which used to carry my full name, but then I took that down and made my identity semi-anonymous.

    I began reading a few “mommy bloggers” and realized that most of them post anonymously. I have forever been a lurker, but then I got pulled into discussions that were of a very personal nature. Realizing that it perhaps wasn’t a good idea to reveal personal information to someone you did not know at all, I left anonymous comments. But, then I sometimes wanted to comment using my blog so modified my traceability on the blog instead.

    Now, depending on the blog content/blogger, I either comment completely anonymously or leave my name and my blog link or only my blog link depending on what the discussion is. I find myself concerned about anonymity as I get older. Having googled my name a couple of times, I was surprised to see comments I had left a long time ago on some blogs show up. Nothing to be ashamed of, but those opinions and writing style of a younger me and I had changed quite a bit beyond those days. My own blog also has my posts from way back in the day, but someone would really have to be interested in me to dig through them than a random comment that easily shows up when I am googled, hence the preference for anonymity/semi-anonymity these days.

  7. Shail says:

    I have never ever understood, right from quite young days when all the brainwashing was happening, why rape victims are shamed and not the rapists.
    I was anonymous for a year or so of blogging. But soon after I had my picture up.

    • bhagwad says:

      Maybe something to do with the mindset that a woman is “polluted” after sex. I swear one doesn’t even know where to start when it comes to backward attitudes….

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