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You Can’t Be Anonymous Online If You…

Some people wrap themselves in marketing phrases and feel-good privacy statements which mean little in the real world. So just a reminder to our regular readers about what online anonymity entails.

You can’t be anonymous online if you…

1. Join virtually any social network (since, by their very nature, they encourage you to share as much information as possible with their services and others through their website).

2. Post a photo of yourself anywhere online (or on any social network). Photos are readily identifiable and anyone who’s ever thought, “No one will ever see this,” are usually disappointed at how incredibly wrong they are when their boss/boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/parent gets an emailed copy of it.

3. Share key identifying information about yourself, including (but not limited to): where you work or go to school; your hometown; where you live now; your neighborhood; your age; your favorite band; your favorite hobbies; the people you know; etc. While any one single piece of information is unlikely to identify you (outside of your name, phone number, email address or social security number), a combination of pieces of information (which most people share haphazardly, over time) can often paint a picture of your identity.

4. Use the same pseudonym or email address as your identity on multiple communities or social networks. People are amazed at how easy it is to track down their online history through this simple piece of data (which is very often unique).

5. Sign a guestbook or add a Facebook application to your profile. As the BBC so easily demonstrated last week (link to BBC video which auto-plays), once you give away access to your profile information to a Facebook application, it can be gone for good (as well as all of your friends’ profiles too!). While Facebook pays lip service to being able to spot such malicious applications, the truth is that there are far more people incentivized to create these kinds of applications than there are people who can stop them from proliferating.

As the head of Sun, Scott McNealy said nearly a decade ago, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

While that may be true, you’re better off if you don’t delude yourself that you have any inkling of privacy when you join a social network (especially those that claim they offer “anonymous” social groups).

Your privacy online is fleeting and fragile. Take it from there…

You Can’t Be Anonymous Online If You…

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). You Can’t Be Anonymous Online If You…. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 May 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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