"You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender." -Terry Malloy

About a year ago I signed up for a free website named Failin.gs. After signing up, the service allows people around you to leave anonymous suggestions and feedback — the idea being since all comments are anonymous, your friendships won’t be affected and you can get real, true comments and suggestions on ways to improve your life. If you’ve ever wanted to secretly tell a friend that they have stinky breath or dress like a rock star from the 1980s, this would be perfect way to do so. Or so I thought.

Except for the first week I haven’t been able to get anyone to leave suggestions for me, and every single person I’ve mentioned it to has had the same comment: “nothing on the Internet is anonymous.”

And in a way they’re right. Technically speaking very little of what happens on the Internet is truly anonymous. TCP/IP, the language of the Internet, uses IP addresses to figure out what information goes where. When you visit robohara.com, your computer sends your IP address to my website, which in turn determines what information you requested (like a blog post or a picture) and sends it back to your IP address. Web servers by default log this information — for how long those logs are kept or what is done with them is up to the site’s administrator.

There are ways to hide your IP address, like using a proxy server for example. To use one of those, your computer connects to a proxy server which would in turn connect to robohara.com. My website would then send the information back to the proxy server, which would then send it back to you. The only IP address robohara.com would ever see would be the one belonging to the proxy server. This still isn’t truly anonymous as the proxy server still has your IP address. I, Rob O’Hara, wouldn’t have any way to get that IP address from the proxy server owner unless you committed some sort of crime, and even then I would be depending on the owner of the proxy server to maintain logs. The real key here is to use a proxy server in another country, or better yet, hop from one proxy to another. This is pretty safe unless you start pissing off three letter agencies, at which point you had better hope you are using proxy servers that are far away in countries that don’t like cooperating with this one. I am digressing off topic.

The point is, at least with failin.gs, they do not reveal people’s IP addresses, e-mail addresses, or any other information to its users. So while it might not be anonymous in the technical internet routing definition of the world, it was anonymous to me. Still, people are so hesitant to believe that in this day and age something online would truly be anonymous that the basic requirement for users to trust a random website and believe that it was truly anonymous was more than people were willing to do.

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4 Responses to “The failing of failin.gs”

  1. Eduard says:

    Hi Rob, it’s ok, I do not really see the point in that website for one simple reason: friends will tell you things openly, or they won’t tell anyone. See, I’ve put my name in the comment, my website, and my email (I know it is not published).

  2. Mom says:

    I would be so afraid to sign up for the site. First of all, most criticisms, even from friends, would probably hurt my feelings or make me more insecure than I already am. But I’d be more afraid that it would open the door to people who don’t have my best interest at heart and just see an opportunity to make cheap hurtful comments and remain anonymous. Lastly, at my advanced age I don’t imagine that I could change much about myself anyway. Not an excuse, but I pretty much am what I am (me and Popeye, right?)

  3. Earl says:

    I find myself agreeing with Mom up there – it’s just an attempt to legitimize trolling.

    But truthfully, the biggest failing of failin.gs is… that I completely forgot it was there until you posted this. I remember your original post about it, and promptly forgot the thing existed. There’s enough mean-spirited folks in the world, so I probably forgot about it because… why open yourself up to more of that?

    My dad used to say “Stop kicking yourself in the ass. There’s a line running all the way down the block full of other people who’ll do it for you.” And you know what, he was right about that.

  4. ubikuberalles says:

    To be honest I don’t remember you mentioning failin.gs before so I either forgot or you didn’t mention it to me and now you hurt my feelings! :( Actually, meh. :)

    Even if there is no way to track the origin of a person’s post on that site, you could still figure out who wrote it based on that person’s writing style. We all have a unique writing style even though most of are unable to detect it. For example, I use the words “that” and “however” a lot (I also like using parenthesis a lot — and dashes, love the dashes). Experts are able to learn a lot about a person’s education based on their writing style – and their vocabulary. Grammar too, I guess (though, despite my college level vocabulary, I have elementary level grammar skills).

    Although you are no expert in this area, I am sure you might have an inkling of who the originator of at least one or two of the comments posted. None of us are any good, ultimately, of hiding our writing style.

    That’s why many companies use a third party to process the comment section of employee evaluation forms. They take the comments and pass them on only after everything is rewritten in a more standardized format. Even then, certain key phrases sneak by. I remember getting an evaluation and I knew exactly who wrote one comment because it contained the exact phrase he used over and over at work. You can never really hide yourself, something always pokes out.

    Anyway, if you got a really, really (really) long comment on failin.gs it wasn’t from me. Nope. Uh uh.