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How Wired's Hiding Writer Was Found 83

Posted by Soulskill
from the sorta-off-the-grid dept.
newscloud writes "A twitter-savvy, gluten-free pizza shop nabbed missing Wired magazine writer Evan Ratliff in New Orleans early on Tuesday to win the $5,000 Vanish contest. Ratliff was ensnared in part by repeated non-TOR visits to our Facebook application, launched to support the contest's tracker community, and his secret travel journal on Twitter. 'The Vanish Team application became part of the game — essentially a trap for Evan — one he stumbled into each day knowingly and willingly. This is something that we would never do with our Facebook technology if Evan hadn't asked us to pursue him - but it's a useful reminder of "relative" anonymity on the Web.'"
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How Wired's Hiding Writer Was Found

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  • Mouse Trap (Score:5, Funny)

    by realsilly (186931) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:26AM (#29366509)

    Well this pretty much reminds me of game, Mouse Trap.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      The only difference is that Wired probably took in half a million in sponsorships, naming right, etc. I'm surprised it wasn't called the "Apple iPhone Vanish Contest". But I bet the prize money is paid out in gift certificates to Best Buy or shares in Conde Nast.

      You know how they found out that some huge percentage of US currency has traces of cocaine? Well, 95% of the copies of Wired have traces of the spooge of Slashdot readers and advertising account executives. Mixed together.

  • Fembot?!? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Otter (3800) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:30AM (#29366553) Journal

    Last night, Evan unprotected his twitter account and Reifman began to follow him, under the disguise of a fembot.

    Twitter seems as appealing to me as gluten-free pizza, so presumably a "fembot" is some Twitterism with which I'm unfamiliar, and not an actual fembot?

    • A female /r9k/ user perhaps. I guess Evan was a bit depressed about everything and created an advice thread on 4chan.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I don't know what a fembot OR a "female /r9k/" user is... jesus am I old?

        does someone want to provide another definition for the over-30 crowd?

        • Re:Fembot?!? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Mr. DOS (1276020) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:20PM (#29367189)

          "/r9k/", or ROBOT9000, is a board on 4chan (like "/b/"), which centres around a script [xkcd.com] written by Randall Munroe of xkcd (basically, something can only be said once). Male users of said board often refer to each others as "robots", while the comparatively few female users of /r9k/ are generally called "fembots".

                --- Mr. DOS

          • And of course who can forget the original "fembot" name was given to the villainous robot dopplegangers that had cybernetically enhanced strength on the 70/80's TV show the Bionic Woman... which was by far the creepiest villain in the whole series... especially cuz their faces were so easily ripped off...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Have you any idea how it feels to be a fembot living in a manbot's manputer's world?
    • by oldhack (1037484)
      This sounds like a roundabout way to tell me "you're too old, shut up die."
  • Sounds like this guy wasn't even trying very hard. If I were trying to vanish, I sure as hell wouldn't be running scripts on facebook or updating twitter. It sounded like an interesting contest, they should do it again with someone who really knows how to hide.

  • by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage.praecantator@com> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:30AM (#29366563) Homepage

    Second rule: Don't make daily visits to a web community dedicated to tracking you down. Fail.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Unless everyone else is standing up, in which case sitting down might be a giveaway...

    • The first rule of Hiding Club is no one talks about Hiding Club.

    • by fulldecent (598482) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:16PM (#29367113) Homepage

      He fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is never use facebook.

    • by nahdude812 (88157) * on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:07PM (#29369833) Homepage

      He was purposely making the same sorts of mistakes that people make when they try to disappear. I mean, he was, for example, posting his travels to a twitter account, and following several businesses local to where he was ultimately found.

      Being an author who just wrote about the sorts of mistakes people make under these circumstances, he was clearly laying down a bread crumb trail for people to pick up. The point wasn't for him to outsmart the world (honestly anybody can do that for a month if they're really dedicated, just stay offline), the point was to give people a glimpse of what it's like.

      If you're really on the run, staying anonymous for one month shouldn't be too hard. It's when it's been a year, or two, or ten, when you start to wonder how your family is doing, etc. that you start to get into trouble. Creating those connections to your former life is what gets people caught.

  • If I'd been responsible for "Time Speeder", I'd've gone into hiding too.

  • by elucido (870205) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:37AM (#29366643)

    If you think the web isn't anonymous enough with all the cookies and hidden tracking features of firefox, just log onto usenet and load your anonymous remailer, use your digital signature as your name, and communicate behind that.

    And if you have to use a tor like proxy service there are ways to use it properly and ways to use it improperly.

  • Great! (Score:5, Funny)

    by kuzb (724081) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:50AM (#29366807)
    One of the five people playing won!
  • When I saw in his profile in the mag that he had Celiac Disease (I have it as well), my first thought was well, this just got about 50% easier for the searchers. The dude's gotta eat/buy food. Not that he couldn't make it eating out of a normal supermarket -- just assumed he would stick with what he knew to some extent for his diet.

    • by corbettw (214229)
      Which, if you'd read the original article, you'd understand was the point. The article was about how, when people try to vanish, they almost inevitably fall into the same old patterns which is what ends up getting them caught. If you want to disappear, you have to completely disappear. In my case, that would mean:
      • Can't ever see my wife or kids again
      • No more wine tastings
      • No more Warhammer
      • No more visits to Slashdot, Fark, Facebook, Reason Hit-n-Run, or Tales from the Zombie War
      • Can't work in IT anymore; in fac
      • by PReDiToR (687141)
        You mean Andy [wikipedia.org] Dufresne [wikipedia.org]?

        Or am I completely off on the character you meant?
      • by 93,000 (150453)

        I understand your point, and for the most part think you are absolutely correct. But when you disappeared would you also stop eating? If you were diabetic, when you disappeared would you also stop being diabetic?

        My point was that by having CD, his options were inherently more limited. He's going to gravitate to places that are 'celiac friendly', if you will.

        • by corbettw (214229)
          There's no doubt that disappearing would be harder for some people than others. If you think CD sufferers have it rough there just think about diabetics!

          The whole experiment is an interesting way of pointing out how intertwined we all are today. 150 years ago it was trivial for someone to head into the west and reinvent themselves as whatever they wanted to be; nowadays, that would be nigh impossible. I almost wonder if we've lost something because of that.
          • by 93,000 (150453)

            Diabetes would be a bitch. It's one of the reminders that life isn't all that bad. What I got isn't great, but I'll take it. It's a cakewalk compared to so many things.

            And a sort of spin on your analogy, just 20 years ago a person could head off to college and, in a sense, do the same. Ditch the past baggage/people/that nickname you hated, and become whomever you wanted. Option to report back in 20 for the reunion.

            I wonder how kids today ever break away from their existing circle with facebook and all.

  • Sounds like a new episode of Majestic [wikipedia.org]

  • If he had disabled all plugins (i.,e flash,etc) in his browser surely he would have never left a trace of ip ?
  • by SuperJ (125753) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:32PM (#29367379) Homepage

    Where do I begin? The pretext of the competition is to vanish while staying active online? Who would ever want to do that??? I want to completely disconnect from society except I want to stay connected to everyone?? Then on top of that, they give out a $5K prize...if you're working on this for a month, that hardly motivates anyone to drop their day job. So to make it actually possible, the guy has to join the freaking facebook group of the only group of people tracking him?? The thing is so contrived it's just worthless.

    Fish, Barrel, Boom.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Cost: $5K.

      Advertising potential: The term "Hidden Wired Editor" will now show up on hundreds of blogs, techie news articles, watercooler discussions, etc. Wired initiates its Facebook presence with more reason to "Become a Fan" than just following Wired's articles. The TwitterNet is all, well, a-Twitter, albeit briefly, about it. The name "Wired" has received some significant eyeball time.

      Sounds like a damned cheap ad to me, even at twice the price.

    • by Aurisor (932566) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @01:02PM (#29367837) Homepage

      I tried asking a Democratic reformer in China, an atheist Iranian, a member of the Tibetan independence movement and a North Korean, but none of them could think of a situation where this might be useful.

      If anyone can think of a situation where a person would want to be active online without being found, please post it here. My four friends and I are super-curious now.

      • by iamhigh (1252742)
        I see what you did!!! Clever. Of course there are bad things you could use this for as well. [slashdot.org]
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by blueskies (525815)

          What bad things did those people do? You're argument is works against cars, knives, fertilizer, etc. who cares if you can do some bad things if you can do 10 orders of magnitude above that in good things?

      • by Gravitron 5000 (1621683) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @01:28PM (#29368297)

        I tried asking a Democratic reformer in China, an atheist Iranian, a member of the Tibetan independence movement and a North Korean, but none of them could think of a situation where this might be useful.

        I was hoping that they were about to walk into a bar ...

      • by bkpark (1253468)

        I tried asking a Democratic reformer in China, an atheist Iranian, a member of the Tibetan independence movement and a North Korean, but none of them could think of a situation where this might be useful.

        Er, North Koreans (outside the ruling class) don't have Internet access, at least not if they are still in North Korea.

        And as for all those other people, if they have access to Internet still, then they are too small a fish to have mattered in the first place.

        In the rare case when an influential persona is trying to stay on the Internet while avoiding the government tracking him, this contest is, again, useless. The guy didn't take the first precautions anyone trying to stay anonymous should (on purpose, wh

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      It's not, because people on the run often do try to get information about who is tracking them down.

  • TV news magazines like Dateline have done several stories about people who drop off of radar, only to to trip over some trivial mistake. Often peopel may contact old relatives. or they repeat jobs or hobbie they had before to make a living.
  • Steve Rambam, a private investigator, gives talks at the 2600 HOPE conferences. In 2006, he gave a talk called, "Privacy is Dead, Get Over It." He makes a convincing case that in the age of the Internet, 20 bucks will get you access to everything you ever wanted to know about someone. Not just pseudo-personal information like address, date of birth, SSN, phone numbers, and so on, but their complete financial history including credit records, bank accounts, loans, and major purchases; magazine subscriptions;

There are running jobs. Why don't you go chase them?

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