Privacy … Or so you think

Ah, the Internet. What an incredible utility. I can be totally anonymous here, saying whatever I want and no one will be the wiser. I can open up a Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter account, abuse it by posting whatever I want about whomever I want, and no one can do anything about it. I’m completely anonymous! Ha! Try to track me down!

I can post comments on news items, send emails through “free” email services like HotMail, Yahoo, and Gmail. I can post pictures on Flickr and Tumblr. I can chat using AIM, ICW, Skype, or GTalk! The limits are endless, and you can’t find me! You have no idea who I am!

Wait, what’s that? You have my IP address? You have the email address I signed up with? You have my username and you’ve used that to link me to other sites? … And now you’re planning on suing me? I .. uhh… Oh boy…

Online anonymity is mostly a myth. There are ways to remain completely anonymous, but they are, at best, extremely cumbersome and difficult. With enough time and dedication, your identity can be tracked down. Don’t be too afraid, though. Typically, no one really cares who you are. There may be a few who take offense at what you have to say, but most don’t have the knowledge or access to obtain the information necessary to start their search.

There are those out there with the means and the access to figure out who you are, though. Take, for instance, the case of Judge Shirley Saffold. According to a newspaper in Cuyahoga county Ohio, Judge Saffold commented on a number of local articles, including articles about cases she had presided over. These comments ranged from simple, innocuous comments, to commentary about ongoing cases and those participating in them.

The Judge, of course, denies any involvement. Her daughter has stepped forward claiming that she is the one that made all of the posts. According to the newspaper, they traced activity back to the Judge’s computer at the courthouse, which they believe to be definitive proof that the Judge is the actual poster.

This is an excellent example of the lack of anonymity on the Internet. There are ways to track you down, and way to identify who you are. In the case of Judge Saffold, and editor for the paper was able to link an online identity to an email address. While I’m not entirely sure he should have had such access, and apparently that access has been removed, the fact remains that he did. This simple piece of information has sparked a massive debate about online privacy.

You, as a user of the Internet, need to understand that you don’t necessarily have anonymity. By merely coming to read this post, you have left digital footprints. The logs for this website have captured a good deal of information about you. What browser you’re using, what IP address you’ve access the site from, and sometimes the address of the last site you visited. It is even possible, though this site doesn’t do it, to send little bits of information back to you that can track your online presence, reporting back where you go from here and how long you stay there.

Believing you are truly anonymous on the Internet can be dangerous. While it may feel liberating to speak your mind, be cognizant that your identity can be obtained if necessary. Don’t go completely crazy, think before you post.