November 21, 2011

How Google Analytics threatens anonymous bloggers

And speaking of Andy Baio, here’s a fascinating bit of internet sleuthing:

Last month, an anonymous blogger popped up on WordPress and Twitter, aiming a giant flamethrower at Mac-friendly writers like John Gruber, Marco Arment and MG Siegler. As he unleashed wave after wave of spittle-flecked rage at “Apple puppets” and “Cupertino douchebags,” I was reminded again of John Gabriel's theory about the effects of online anonymity.

Out of curiosity, I tried to see who the mystery blogger was.

He was using all the ordinary precautions for hiding his identity — hiding personal info in the domain record, using a different IP address from his other sites, and scrubbing any shared resources from his WordPress install.

Nonetheless, I found his other blog in under a minute — a thoughtful site about technology and local politics, detailing his full name, employer, photo, and family information. He worked for the local government, and if exposed, his anonymous blog could have cost him his job.

[...]

So, how did I do it? The unlucky blogger slipped up and was ratted out by an unlikely source: Google Analytics.

As Baio points out, this could be a huge deal for anonymous bloggers writing about, say, Chinese censorship or Mexican drug cartels.