In light of recent events, I figured I'd write a short guide to maintaining your privacy on the internet, and dispel a few myths. I am not condoning posting illegal activities or proof of FAR violations. This guide does have some relevance though to protecting your identity or property from theft. Anyone with additional authoritative knowledge, feel free to add to this.
It is not through any kind of technology that identities are revealed in today's version of the internet. It is through good old fashioned detective work, utilizing the technique of cross-referencing. There is no mystical technology that allows them to trace your posts, or track you. Without a search warrant or subpoena from a court, they only have access to limited information, and it's all provided voluntarily by you.
What you cannot prevent
Given the seemingly anonymous nature of website access, there are a few items of data that it is very hard to conceal: Your computer's IP address. This number is logged by the host web server with each page request you make. The logged data, however, is only accessible to the administrator of that web server, NOT necessarily the administrator of the website. It is data that is certainly only available to a select few who maintain the web server, and not available to any other outside party unless ascertained though a court-ordered search warrant. What this means is that the one piece of identifying information that you can't conceal is nearly impossible for anyone who doesn't have administrator access to the web server to get. Even then, the logs have to be corroborated by the forum post to get a match, which can be difficult. That's good news.
How a web surfer can determine your identity
Beyond logged IP addresses, how can someone determine your real-life identity? Here are a few scenarios:
1. You list your N-number in your profile or signature, or as your username. That number can simply be plugged into the FAA Aircraft registry query, and the full name of the registered owner is revealed, with physical address.
2. You have photos of your plane in your photo gallery with N# easily discernable. See #1 above.
3. You use the same username on BCP as you do on Supercub.org, Cessna170.org, illegalstuffIdid.org, etc. You may have eliminated all your N# references from BCP, but you left many on the other websites. A simple Google search on your username will reveal that you also post on those other sites. The searcher simply begins mining your data from those sites and repeats #1 or similar.
4. You list the URL of your personal or business website in your profile. In AKtahoe1's case, he listed his other business web address, a very nice website which included a personal profile about him, giving his full name. Even the most rudimentary detective skill is all it takes to pull that off.
The list goes on and on, and while the detective skills of the investigating bodies may only extend so far, we don't know how persistent they are, or if they'll give up long before they force the web host to reveal the identity tied to the posting IP address.
What you can do to prevent your identity from being revealed
Some people live squeaky clean lives with nothing to hide and are comfortable sharing aspects of those lives on the internet. Others may choose to be a little more discrete. The absolute best way to never be caught for a violation of any regulation is to not have any witnesses, and never to share the story with anyone. If you just can't contain yourself though, and want to share with us, follow these steps:
1. Don't include photos of your N#, or list your N# in your profile or signature.
2. Don't list a personal or business website that can be used to crossmatch information and determine your identity.
3. Photos of your face are fine, as unless you're on the FBI's Most Wanted list, they're a difficult way to determine identity without questioning people who know you, and how would they find those people without already knowing you?
4. Keep in mind that your username, if you use the same one on various websites, can be considered all one account from the standpoint of Google. The keyword '1SeventyZ' will turn up multiple forum accounts, as well as Vimeo.com and Cessna170guide.org. You have to keep all your houses in order.
5. It's next to impossible for me, personally, to hide now. I was blessed/cursed with one of the more rare first names in the book, and the type of aircraft I fly is easily discernable from my photo gallery. I volunteer that I'm in Oregon. Simple search on the FAA aircraft registry for Cessna 170's in Oregon returns quite a few, but only 1 with an owner named Zane.
As you can see, there's nothing mystical about the technology used to determine identity, it's simple cross matching using a powerful search engine which crawls websites and indexes keywords. Even the most bumbling detective can determine your identity with just 1 or 2 clues.
1) If your username is your actual name or N#, PM me to change it to something else.
2) If you have your N# or name in your signature, change it by editing your Profile.
Last edited by Zzz
on Sun Jan 11, 2009 2:23 pm, edited 3 times in total.