I’ve gotten quite a few private messages regarding the various implications set forth in my two posts – here and here – regarding StatCounter and the information it reveals. What I’m learning from the resulting conversations is that a lot of VOXers, even the relatively tech-savvy ones, don’t completely understand the significance of the retrieved data and/or don’t realize how batshit crazy some people can be and how much time crazy people tend to have available to them. This then necessitates another post to publicly deal with these issues because I know for a fact that only a tiny percentage of the people who read those posts would find it inside their comfort zone to contact me directly. So this post is for those of you who, like me, find it difficult to approach a stranger out of the blue and start asking a bunch of questions. Hopefully, I’ll answer your questions here, but if I don’t, please feel free to contact me either in the comments or via private message. Don’t be shy.
So What’s The Big Deal, Anyway?
The most common query has been something to the effect of, “Why should I care?” This makes me both happy and sad. On the one hand, people don’t seem too worried that StatCounter is so ubiquitous here at VOX; but then on the other hand, you have people now starting to wonder if they should be worried about it. I can’t help but feel like the latter is completely my fault – like maybe I’ve become the VOX Fear-Monger, sowing my seeds of dissent and paranoia with posts that are merely disguised as helpful tutorials. *sigh*
So I want to make this clear: Most of the people who use StatCounter do so only because they want to know how much traffic their blog actually gets. Stalkers are sorta rare. Scary and pitiful, but rare.
Alright, so, what’s the big deal? The simple answer is it’s really no big deal if you don’t want it to be. Then again, it’s a huge deal if you let it be one. It all comes down to whether you mind people knowing your every move when you are at their site. Because, once a person has determined which visitor is you, they can label your IP address which makes it remarkably easy to pick you out of the crowd and
stalk watch you. Again, if this doesn’t bother you, you can pretty much stop reading now. Of course, StatCounter will tell me how long you were here, so if I was a psychopath with lotsa time on my hands (I’m not), I’d find out that you stopped reading here (I won’t) and that small fact might piss me off (it wouldn’t) and I might start stalking you (not a chance).
It occurs to me, however, that maybe folks just don’t realize how much info a clever stalker could get using tools like StatCounter. To the uninitiated, a few minutes of detective work could give me the instant reputation as the Sherlock Holmes of the Internet. Just as Holmes would reveal things about a person that were seemingly impossible for him to know, so could I appear to have similar psychic abilities when I inform a person that I know the city in which they live, the company at which they work, the fact that they used a bookmark to get to my blog, and even something as seemingly obscure as a list of the Wikipedia changes they’ve made. It’s all there for the taking if you know how and where to look.
It’s already been stated that this sort of info is pretty much only acquired by frighteningly troubled freaks with too much time and too little medication. This is the part that makes the whole thing an issue at all. If only nuns and Buddhist monks were doing it, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Inside the Crystal Ball
Now, it’s not like as soon as you come to my VOX, I am e-mailed a photograph of you naked and a copy of your birth certificate and driver’s license. I believe one needs police-level access to get those things. But let me give you a run-down of how a person might figure out that you were the one who changed the Metallica Wiki page to say that the band fully admitted to being wanking posers:
1. You leave a comment at the VOX of someone we’ll call “Crazyeyes13” at 4:04pm on 09-01-2007 from your work computer.
2. Crazyeyes13 immediately checks your profile and learns you live in Borneo.
3. Crazyeyes13 then checks StatCounter and inspects every recent visitor from Borneo.
4. Crazyeyes13 cross-checks the time-stamp of your comment against the StatCounter time-stamps of Borneo visitors who looked at that page.
5. Crazyeyes13 labels your IP as being you (for later tracking), then performs a WHOIS search, thereby determining who your employer is.
6. Provided conditions are right, Crazyeyes13 confirms where you work via your LinkedIn profile.
7. Out of insane curiosity, Crazyeyes13 does a quick search at WikiScanner and sees that someone from your work IP changed the afore-mentioned Metallica Wikipedia page.
8. Crazyeyes13 looks up your work number, calls the front desk, asks for you by name, gets transferred and confronts you about the Metallica slur.
Did you actually make the Metallica Wiki change? It doesn’t matter to a psycho! Psychos are crazy! So now a pissed-off and insane Metallica fan knows where you work!* Fucking stupid StatCounter!
So, as you see, this sort of stalking isn’t an easy job, but sadly, there are a handful of people out there who feel they need to do it. The scenario above is just one way it might go down. I present it not to aid stalkers or scare the crap out of anyone, but to enlighten you, the hapless VOXer, in determining whether you want to undertake the blocking procedures I laid out here.
Instead of ending this post with some sarcastic punchline, I’ll just reiterate that I am fully open to people contacting me with questions. Don’t be afraid. I won’t bite. I’m happy to do what I can to clarify anything that’s vague or confusing. And sending naked pictures is totally a voluntary thing; do it only if the mood strikes you.**
*Yes, it could be argued that “insane Metallica fan” is a redundant statement.
**You should know by now that the sarcastic punchline would still rear its ugly head.