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.