On the Internet, People Know if you’re a dog

(Update, 2pm ET: Scott Hintz from TripIt replied in the comments on the original post apologizing for the employee’s behavior – thanks Scott.)

One of the famous cartoons of the first internet craze was this one from the New Yorker:

On the Internet Nobody Knows You\'re a Dog

On the Internet Nobody Knows You're a Dog

The reality is, however, that increasingly people’s online identity can be mapped to their offline identity. (Check out Who Controls the Internet? for a well informed and very smart extended exploration on what this means from a legal perspective, and this reality checkfrom UNC).

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about TripIt and Dopplr, two major companies in the social travel market, which people use to share information about various trips they are taking or planning. It was a perfectly innocuous post, describing some of Dopplr’s new features which make it more like TripIt, and presumably more competitive with TripIt as a result.

That post recieved the following comment, from someone identifying himself as Thomas, with an email address at Yahoo! mail, and no url:

Well, in regards to Dopplr’s generic email import approach, I’ve tried forwarding several different emails I have from my company, travel agent, and from major airlines such as American Airlines, but they don’t work one bit. For example, Dopplr thinks I’m going to different places in Europe when I send in my opentable reservation.

In contrast, most of these work “out of the box” with TripIt. And when I complained about my travel agent not being supported, they added it within a day.

What’s more, is that I don’t really want to “discover” people I do not know on a trip. All I’ve been wanting to do is to manage my business travels better and inform my family. TripIt fits that bill perfectly.

So, I don’t really find Dopplr very useful. My two cents.

Thanks for the nice write-up though.

Best,
Thomas

Not itself a controversial comment, and I almost approved it without a second thought. But then I noticed that the IP address from which the comment was posted (69.12.150.246) is mapped to a machine called wall.tripitinc.com:

jeckman$ nslookup 69.12.150.246

Non-authoritative answer:
246.150.12.69.in-addr.arpa name = wall.tripitinc.com.

(I would likely not have even noticed, but either WordPress itself or one of my plugins actually adds that info to the email it sends me letting me know that a comment has been recieved and is awaiting moderation).

So I emailed “Thomas” – using the yahoo.com address he provided – and suggested he disclose that in his comment.

I never heard back – perhaps the email wasn’t valid to begin with. So, I decided to post the comment, but also note what I had determined about its origin.

Lesson learned? It’s easier than you think to determine who you are when you do various things on the net. If you’re going to post comments on blogs that discussion your product(s), disclose your relationships. Nothing wrong with posting – I’ve had many comments from folks whose products/services I discuss in blog posts – but posting a comment like the above without disclosure is basically astroturfing, and it never works.

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  1. #1 • Joe Schueller said on July 17 2008:
     

    Great post… transparency will set you free. :-)

  2. #2 • some dog said on July 17 2008:
     

    John, I have to disagree with you.

    Nobody knew I was a dog until you sent out the comic.

    Transparency ftl!

  3. #3 • Steven said on August 7 2008:
     

    Of course, no one knows much of anything (unless you tell them) when using tor. This might include citizen journalists facing authoritarian governments which suppress free speech, tipsters and whistleblowers, and others. Anonymity can be had on the internet, and internet freedom might well depend upon it.