Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

On the Internet, Everybody Knows You’re a Name-Caller: Google Unmasks the “Skank” Blogger

google-suitWant to call someone a “skank” on the Web while remaining anonymous? Might want to rethink that: Following an order from a New York court, Google has outed a woman who insulted a former model using the company’s Blogger service.

Google (GOOG) handed over the woman’s identifying information to Liskula Cohen, who was trying to find out who had insulted her on “Skanks in NYC,” a now-defunct site created using Blogger. Cohen argued that she had been defamed by the site’s anonymous proprietor and needed to find out who that person was in order to sue him or her. On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden agreed, and yesterday Google complied with her order.

In an interview with “Good Morning America” host Dianne Sawyer today (sorry, no embed!), Cohen says her antagonist is a frenemy of sorts–“an irrelevant person in my life…that girl who was always there,” and that’s she not sure whether she’ll sue her after all.

The bigger question is whether the case sets a new precedent for unmasking anonymous voices on the Web, and I suppose it’s possible that it will: If you don’t like what people have written about you and you can hire a lawyer who can convince a judge that you’ve been defamed, you can out them.

But the truth is that the anonymity most people think they’re enjoying on the Web has always been an illusion.

Every time you use the Internet, you’re leaving a trail of identifiable information–even if you never log in to a single service, your IP address can give you away, or at least come close to it. And if you do use any kind of service at all, or at least one based in the U.S., your identity has always been available to someone who can get a subpoena. Worth thinking about next time you want to spout off without signing your name.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work