In the Interest of Fair and Balanced Stalking

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.

A Map of Today's CimC Visitors Worldwide

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.

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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27 Responses to In the Interest of Fair and Balanced Stalking

  1. Mazz says:

    I just clicked on this out of curiosity, and dayum! That information is kind of scary! It's amazing how much information is out there, and I *have* known people that crazy. I will be looking into the blocking procedures, thanks. I will not be sending naked pictures of myself, however – they're just not pretty 😉

  2. Mazz says:

    Oh yeah – love the Cthulu stuff, and now I read you dig ST TOS! Mind if I add you as a friend?

  3. Kirk says:

    "Mind if I add you as a friend?"Certainly! ^_^ I love making friends.

  4. Mazz says:

    Groovy! don't know if my posts will be that interesting to you – I mostly slap up pics of hottness (mostly male, but sometimes female) and I did feature William Shatner recently. Also, I bitch – but who doesn't?

  5. Kirk says:

    You bitch a lot? Hmm, what a coincidence! 😛 We'll get along just fine, I think. Your profile confirms my suspicions.

  6. arbed says:

    more goodness – thanksI like to play devil's advocate so a question from me is just as likely to be from one side of an issue as the other – I think it's the libra in me (scales, seeing both sides, blah blah blah)no nekkid pics from me either – I don't want to get tossed from your 'hood

  7. arbed says:

    oh and I forgot to mention – my comp froze while I was reading this post – that was you, wasn't it? o_O

  8. Kirk says:

    "oh and I forgot to mention – my comp froze while I was reading this post – that was you, wasn't it?"*looks askance and whistles nonchalantly*

  9. IG says:

    hey kirk, please to confirm that I'm now invisible to your sensors? i've been running all over Vox nekkid since you first put up your blocking instructions but it occurs to me that i should probably make sure my invisibility cloak is actually working…

  10. Kirk says:

    Nope, IG, I can't see you. No one from your neck of the woods shows as having hit my VOX in the past hour. Looks like you're cloaked.

  11. Hi Kirk! I'd comment but you already know I've been here. ;)Just teasing….

  12. The scary thing isn't that anyone with a StatCounter can find these things: if someone runs a website with a stat program on the backend (AWStats or Webalizer) they can get all this information as well. And every hosting package I've come across offers these programs. I have a website and can see which IP addresses have been there, when they've been, and if they use my email form I can then correlate their name and email address with their IP address and country of origin (not that I do. Hadn't even thought about it until reading this post. Still wouldn't do it. Too much effort. Too icky).Luckily most of us just like to say "Cool, a visitor for Vietnam!" and go on our merry way.Hopefully StatCounter will be a passing fad. I had it for a little while but I've taken it down. When I realised that I actually didn't care how many people visited my page or where they were from I figured it wasn't worth having.It's good to warn people about privacy issues online. Then they can at least make a conscious decision of how much personal information they're happy letting other people have. Great post, Kirk!

  13. Brown Suga' says:

    Can someone here PLEASE tell me how to block Statcounter on internet explorer? I have only IE on my college computer.
    Kirk, I did a bit of tweaking with the security and privacy tabs but then found out that everytime I visited your Vox I was signed out! And no matter what I tried, I couldn't sign in.

  14. Borneo? Close enough I guess.

  15. Drude says:

    So.. I tried the stat counter thingy, and I was amazed at how bad it actually is… if a person only loads the page once, it says they've been there 0 seconds… I could load and read your entire blog (spend ages) without getting registered for more than 0 secs. Only if I click around on various things does it register that I was here for more than just popping in and out again. Also…when I look at my own dot… it's 3 hours drive away from my actual physical location… and the servers name is the TV & Innernets company so rather anonymous…. So – apart from my country… which makes me stand out instantly… could you find me in person? – just curious – 'cause otherwise I can't be bothered with the paranoia.

  16. GinBaby says:

    Interesting. Now, I am totally paranoid and I have to stop reading. Because now I know the FBI will really be after me. Thank heavens for my collection of fake passports.
    Seriously–who thought this up? Who thought it would be a good idea to make all this info available? Gack. I'm going to go start stockpiling arms now.

  17. Drude says:

    Woops… I just tried – with a bit of googling… anybody who can use the Danish yellowpages (which is of course slightly difficult for most of you guys on account of the language) can find my street address and home phone number in a very short time… excellent… soo that's it! I'll be paranoid anyways then – of course you don't need the spy-counter to do that… publicly available info on my blog & profile is more than enough to find me. Then again, I don't think I've pissed off a lot of Metallica fans… ever… and the FBI/CIA/KGB (I know, it's called something else now that I forgot) and others must have a file on me already if they want one – and know how to get around any kinds of blocks I could install… and it will probably do them good to see some bunny rabbits and kittens on my blog every so often, so I'm not going to worry about them.

  18. snoringKatZ says:

    Very enlightening! (adjusting my tin foil hat to repel StatCounter now and scribbling down information to improve my stalking technique since I was still doing it the old-fashioned 'following you home and circling the block like a vulture' way) This is going to save sooooo much time! 🙂 <—naked picture of me

  19. Dancing Bear says:

    I clearly see a Nashville visitor on the map. I posted a picture of my old missing cat and my ex from 16 years ago wrote to me and said he saw that I visited his blog and didn't appreciate me using his picture (of my cat he stole). He changed his blog address, closed his e-mail account, yaddah, yaddah. I got his address from an e-mail he responded to from mutual friend we still share. He hit reply all and I got his response sent to my address. It said Blank. so I looked at it. No sneaky searching or anything on my part. On his front page was my cat who he didn't even want to get when we were together yet had to have when we parted. I wrote to him letting him know that I really had no interest, I was just happy that my cat was not dead and I wish him well. Even though he changed his e-mail address and so forth he same friend sent another e-mail and his address was in the e-mail,lol so I sent him one even though he changed it. I told him that "why yes, I did visit the Blog that you had at the bottom of the e-mail you sent me by mistake. You changed your last name again and I just found it odd. Not my business, but I am a curious guy". Anyhow, I have no interest in him other than we spent almost 10 years together but now 16 apart and that he had my cat and I wanted to be happy that he was still alive.. He saw on his stat counter that I had visited and he was in a tailspin. What am I going to do? Come and get my cat? Anyhow, your points are taken and it does expose you to people looking at your stuff. He never replied when I told him that even though he visited my Vox I wasn't going to change/hide from him because I could care less. I also thought that if he is so smart how could I do what I did so easily. I am a dumbass from the word go and I within a few hours was able to get in direct contact without so much as a search.

  20. Kirk says:

    "I clearly see a Nashville visitor on the map."Yeah DB, you might. That map was for the whole day yesterday. The "Recent Visitor Activity", though, showed no one from Nashville in that hour, so I knew IG's cloaking device was working.That "Reply All" shit pisses me off. My e-mail has been given out to lotsa people I didn't want it to be given to simply because some jerk hit Reply All. As if they never heard of a BCC field.

  21. Kirk says:

    "Can someone here PLEASE tell me how to block Statcounter on internet explorer? I have only IE on my college computer." Let me do some research, Suga'. I'll see what I can find out. ^_^

  22. I wonder if you were to put a different spin on this, if all of this readily accessible information could be of use to someone. A bizarre example could be someone needing an iron clad alibi (okay I know far fetched but just food for thought). Said person was home alone playing on the computer when their very much hated nemesis was murdered. Of course to make this information necessary in the first place said persons computer had a meltdown when he/she tripped over the cat, that was being chased by the toy mouse, spilled his/her root beer float he/she was drinking in a fit of self pity, all over the desk, the power cord, the battery back up, and the hard drive. Oh did I mention that the root beer float was in a gallon size mug? Anyway they only way they can prove that they were at home was to have the IT guys at the FBI (did I also mention that the nemesis was a ex lover that worked for the government?) look up some of the locations that he/she was last exploring on the internet. Little do the FBI and IT guys know is that said person actually did kill said nemesis. The computer was programed to explore certain pages on the internet through an elaborate software program. The program was also rigged to erase it self after triggering a remote device designed to activate a remote mouse that would then chase the cat past the desk where a gallon size root beer float was precariously perched on a stack of very slick magazines on the shelf above the monitor and hard drive. As of course all bad guys do in the imaginary world, said bad guy/gal was caught by his/her own mistake(s).As a part of the boring dork cover he/she was maintaining, there was an energy usage program set up in the house to monitor all energy usage and waste, designed to help a earth conscious homeowner to find all the areas in a home that needed improvement. The Criminal Investigation team was able to determine that there was not a human body present in the computer room at the time of supposed internet activity, just by checking all the monitored temperature zones in the home. LOL isn't fun to have an imagination.

  23. oh yeah did I mention that this all of course was false because one of the investigators was a Statcounter stalker of the boring dork, because he/she had made a negative comment on the investigators blog about Princess Diana.So in fact the boring dork was sitting at home reading the various information that he/she could find on termites and carpenter ants, so that he/she could help his/her niece with a science project. Not realizing that an off handed comment made 6 months ago would lead to a bizarre and life threatening battle with the law. The stalker had reprogrammed the data in the energy monitoring systems archives to make it look like the dork was not home.Well I hope I have remembered everything about the story/scenario. Of course none of this is true and if something similar should ever appear in the news I had nothing to do with it. 😉 LOL

  24. Lauri says:

    Oh MAN, I gotta come back and study this when I have more time!!! And read your next post, too! I have to actually go do some work first, though. *Waaaaaa* 😦

  25. Kirk says:

    "…PLEASE tell me how to block Statcounter on internet explorer…"OK, I think I may have found the answer. After looking at what was out there for a bit, I realized that most of the AdBlockers available for IE cost money and only offered limited-time trial versions free.Then I found IE AdBlock 0.4 which appears to be exactly what you need. I haven't tried it, but a couple things I read made me feel all warm and fuzzy:FreewareCompatible with Internet Explorer 7Support for all AdBlock Plus (Mozilla version) listsAdd custom pages and controls to your own blacklistI have good feelings about this one.

  26. Brown Suga' says:

    Hey, thanks! That sounds good. I don't know if I can install it, though … I don't have admin rights on my college computer. 😦

  27. Kirk says:

    Ah, that poses yet another problem. It's unfortunate that you are limited to just the workings of IE, since Microsoft seems to have no desire to help you block scripts with their browser. Hell, they didn't even bother to fix the security holes in IE until half their users switched to Firefox! Gah.Oh, well. If I hear of a way to block individual scripts using IE all by itself, I'll let you know. :)Another route you might think about taking is using Anonymizer. It's designed to hide your online identity by routing you through anonymous proxy servers. I don't think any installs are required to use it.

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