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Privacy Software Science

When Writing, How Anonymous Can You Be, Really? 184

An anonymous reader writes "Do you still think your online writing is, basically, anonymous? Think again! Research has it people put much of their personal traits into their writing, and computers may just be able to pick them up. That's at least what a recently announced competition on author identification (Given a document, who wrote it?) and author profiling (Given a document, what are its author's age and gender?) wants to find out. Alas, re-using other people's writing is no solution either; there's also a competition on plagiarism detection (Given a document, is it an original?). Wanna revisit your recent rants?"
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When Writing, How Anonymous Can You Be, Really?

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  • Uh huh... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @06:47PM (#42309029)

    Like facial recognition.... I am sure this works wonderfully when it only has 10 or 20 exemplars to compare against, but it fails miserably as it scales up. Good luck conclusively identifying an author when there are over a million profiles to potentially match with.

  • One example are the company performance surveys, that are supposed to be anonymous. I cant answer questions like 'how do you think the company leadership is doing' without effectively giving away who I am - my opinion is based on my position, and thus is easily inferred.

  • by SpazmodeusG ( 1334705 ) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @07:10PM (#42309161)

    Your exact version of chrome combined with the exact version of various plugins you used (flash, pdf readers, add blcokers etc) can all be reported to the server and when combined they lead to a lot of bits of entropy. Tor won't help you get around that.

  • by SomePgmr ( 2021234 ) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @07:14PM (#42309181) Homepage

    Most people would just use something like Tor (or Tor and another VPN/proxy service).

    Erm... the transport doesn't matter if you're analyzing message composition.

    Wasn't this part of what that Barr guy was doing to try to figure out who members of Anonymous were? I think I read recently that he turned out to be right about the one that ran to Canada.

  • by Spottywot ( 1910658 ) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @07:56PM (#42309469)

    We can all (I hope) recognise authors quotes whom we have some familiarity even if we haven't read the passage in question before. Terry Pratchet quotes for instance stand out a mile, Frank Herbert can be identified by the fact that he'll use the word 'subtle' at least twice a paragraph. Even here on /. certain posters styles identify them without having to read their UID, Girlintraining is an example (for me at least), hell I can spot her posts purely based on the responses to her posts for gods sake.

    With the privacy arms race going on right now on the internet, identifying people based on what they write *and* their style, is not only the magic bullet for Big Brother, but quite acheivable given a big enough sample,

  • by Genda ( 560240 ) < minus cat> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @08:04PM (#42309499) Journal

    I have Dupytren Contacture. It foreshortens the tendon on my ring fingers of both hands. The result is that when I typing fast I make common repeatable mistakes in typing as well as common typographical errors due to muscle memory. The use of certain vocabulary fixes who you are to those who may be watching, illuminating social exposure, education or intelligence. There are simply so many ways to measure the content a person generates. In a world that growing abhors common anonymity, but reserves that right only for those with the wealth and power to build high walls, we need to ask whether or not we are willing to limit our self expression to remain quietly safe.

    I for one would rather be known as a trouble maker, than not known at all for what it is that I feel moved to say.

    Give me liberty or give me death is still the moral high ground.

  • by Omestes ( 471991 ) <omestes@gmail . c om> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:03PM (#42310247) Homepage Journal

    n a world that growing abhors common anonymity...

    I'm not even sure of this anymore. I'm beginning to think the death of anonymity is inevitable due to nothing but technology; ubiquitous networking, computing power, and near infinite storage. Even without the government, and unregulated corporate behaviors (how else do you stop data farming?), the ability would still be there, and someone would harness it.

    I'm not supporting killing the ability to be anonymous, or supporting the actions of people who would exploit it. I just think that it is going to get increasingly hard to maintain it. Soon we'll see anonymity like we see encryption, not a concrete, perfect, thing, but a matter of degrees. There will be no true anoniminity, but only how much time and resources it would take to unmask people. This, probably, is already true. A determined person, with expensive resources, could probably find almost anyone.

    Hell, a couple months ago I got curious about a childhood friend, someone I haven't seen or talked to in over 20 years. It took about 15 minutes of half-hearted idle searching before I figured out where he lived, how much his house cost, and when he bought it (including a recent Google map of it, and a builders layout, where he worked, his rough income, the car he drives, his wife's name, where her parents live, that his mother recently died, and his father is in a retirement home, etc... I gave up after 15 minutes because I got a bit creeped out. I'm not a PI, I didn't buy any tools for this, I only used Google. I can't even imagine what I would have found if I spent more time, and effort, and money on it.

  • Re:Uh huh... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:14PM (#42310325)

    Well put.

    As a test, I just looked through my own posts on slashdot and selected a four word string I use pretty often that seemed somewhat unique, but not obviously so.

    I combined that string (in quotes) with on Google. At least two of the results returned in the first page were me, made over the course of the last few weeks.

    Now of course there are others that used that in their posts, but had someone picked that string from something I posted AC they'd know there was a good chance it was me. And they'd have my real name, website, etc.

  • assimilation rape (Score:5, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @01:47AM (#42311559)

    Wanna revisit your recent rants?

    I can't stand how every slashdot story submission has to end with a pink flamingo smoke grenade. I'm guessing that sober "just the facts, ma'am" submissions still exist, but rarely make it through the selection hoop of our post-counting overlords.

    I have several online pseudonyms which I make an effort to keep separate. I rarely post the same idea under more than one identity. If I post it here, it doesn't go there. I prefer to keep things separate so far as I can. I also have some background in computational linguistics. I've known for fifteen years that there is absolutely no way to win this battle long term. Only the most insipid comments will escape long-term annealing. If the word "gay" is the all season tire on your social media K-car, then your identity is safely concealed within the deep-wank weeds.

    If every post you write contains colourful language or idiom such as "all-season tire of deep-wank camouflage" you're toast and you know it, clap your hands. Merely getting my possessives and plurals and possessive plurals right more often than not narrows the net substantially. I might pedantically write Harry S Truman without putting a dot after the S (Snopes: "Although the 'S' was not technically an abbreviation and therefore did not need to be followed by a period, Truman's full name was generally rendered as 'Harry S. Truman' during his lifetime ..."). I make use of colons, semicolons (these come and go), mdash appositives, and parenthetical side-notes--at least one of these in almost every paragraph I write. I post way more links than the average person. My thoughts meander. There is playful use of language with double readings. I subvert cliche to achieve double readings that enable me to circle away from my target, then loop back from an unexpected angle. My unit of thought is the paragraph more so than the sentence.

    Even with all those signatures, originality in word selection is my neon tattoo. The corpus analysis algorithms likely don't do much (yet) with originality. Hard to characterize. For a while my anonymity might pass through the gun-metal algorithms unmelded by virtue of my writing being too bright and distinctive and easy to trace. But not for long. Even the fractal filigrees of originality will be coded eventually. (Pay no attention to the alliteration: an accident, not a stylistic signature.)

    Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

    This is about respect. We all live a double life, pretty much all the time. We speak differently in front of our mothers (most of us) than with the lady-killing rough necks at the peanut bar or power tie horn-dogs at the chichi sushi bar.

    I value anonymity because I don't wish to own everything I say on a literal level, stripped of context, devoid of my original conceit or persona.

    I happen to regard linearity as a social construct. Humans are not inherently linear in cognition or constitution. We learn how to cultivate linear facades in our areas of competence (but not necessarily around the edges: this is why a competent accountant consults his astrologer Madam Threenipple). If you like the primary facade you have, and it suits all purposes, then I suppose you'll see the charm in proclaiming it from the RealName rafters.

    If you're a Baptist homosexual (I've known a few), you might wish to string your public identity by separate ropes.

    Or maybe you've just got things to work out. You're figuring things out on the fly and trying them on for size and you don't wish to fall prey to the Joseph McCarthy clean-nose auto-da-fe "have you ever". Implication: Anything you've ever said will be permanently recorded and will classify you irretrievably. This despite 0/1 statistics never passing T-scores. If the same person also has an NRA membership and has been a career employee of the Hoover Institute for two decades? Still a communist. Ten times more dangerous.

    The kind of person most willing t

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"