If I use an email account based on a pseudonym on Google Groups, will Google
match that with my real name and compromise my secrecy? If so, would creating a
that anyone using any account via a particular IP address runs the risk of
few weeks ago.
I’ll certainly admit that I’ve not read it in excruciating detail, but it’s
my understanding that little has changed significantly in Google’s
privacy policies. The new policy simply brings all of the separate policies that they had set up for all of their separate services before under one umbrella.
Your concern about your anonymity actually transcends these policies,
whether they change or not.
It’s my belief that there are really two questions at play here.
Can Google tell who you really are?
My sense is yes.
Google is dealing with so much information on the web and with so many different people in so many different ways that I can’t see how they can’t have collected something, somehow, that ties your pseudonym to something else that might identify the real you.
The real question is do they care?
My sense is not just no, but hell no!
Again, they deal with so many different people every day – millions, if not over a billion – that caring about the details of any one specific person is a complete waste of time from their perspective.
So I would be shocked if there was not some kind of data collected that could tie your pseudonym to your real identity. Creating a new pseudonym – if it’s a solution at all – would only be a temporary one; I’m convinced that that same data aggregation would occur that would eventually tie that to you as well.
And to be clear, I don’t think Google is trying to make this connection. Not at all. In my opinion, it’s simply a side-effect of the massive amounts of information that they deal with every day and the fact that some of it is very likely to connect the dots.
The only time that I see this as an issue is if the legal system gets involved. Google’s records can be subpoenaed and the data made available to the authorities assuming that there’s a legal case to be made that it should be. In such a case, the ability to connect the dots between a pseudonym and a real person will depend on the forensic abilities of the individuals analyzing the data.
In my mind, there’s a second question that is MUCH more important.
Can anyone tell who you really are?
More interesting to me (and completely Google-independent) is how well you’ve avoided publicly exposing data that could potentially still be used to tie your pseudonym to the real you.
Information posted in email, in public forums (like Usenet and others), comments on blogs or articles published publicly all have the potential of accidentally exposing information about you. Everything from writing styles to common typos to IP addresses that may or may not be included in the publicly presented information could be used to identify the real you.
Perhaps not explicitly or directly, but in aggregate, what we post publicly says a tremendous amount about us, whether we include our name or not.
If there’s suspicion that a motivated person could spend time performing some kind of forensic analysis using publicly posted data that might be able to tie a pseudonym to a real person. It’s probably not easy and it probably would be time consuming, but I would be concerned that unless extreme care were consistently taken, it might well be possible.
As just one surprising example, some years ago, AOL allowed anonymized search terms to be used for university research. There was no indication who was searching for what, other than specific users were assigned random and completely anonymous ID numbers. Several real people were identified only by the searches that they performed and the terms that they used, and nothing else.
So ultimately, my concern is not with Google and its privacy policies at all, unless you expect the authorities to be looking for you. (And to be clear, I’m not judging; I know that there are many situations where that’s a valid concern.)
My concern is simply more traditional data leakage made in public.
You may already be telling the world more than you realize.
AOL’s disturbing glimpse into users’ lives c|net, August 7, 2006