Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Paranoia 101

I know the question you are asking yourself. Isn't paranoia a strange trait in a guy who writes about his most intimate erotic fantasies on the internet and even shows his face in spanking videos? I suppose you have a point. But you see, first off, I never claimed that there are no contradictions in what I do. More on that soon. Kaelah's recent column Almost (Un)Real reminded me to work on a post of my own about the subject of alter egos, something I wanted to write about for some time, anyway.

Secondly, and even more importantly, whatever I reveal about myself under the pseudonym Ludwig is a risk which I consciously and willingly take. There are certain things I want to do as Ludwig, some of them entail risks, and I take these risks because they are worth taking in light of the fulfillment I get out of what I do. I still try to minimise them, though. And when it comes to unnecessary risks, the ones I don't have to take to get what I want, I try to avoid them entirely.

I am very, very careful, actually. There are those who would call me outright paranoid. Of course, I deny that I am really paranoid in a pathological sense. I do not believe that THEY are out there, trying to get me. At the same time, though, I can not be sure that THEY are not out there. I am an agnostic when it comes to being persecuted. And I have decided that it is better to be on the safe side. So, just in case, I act as if THEY were out there! I act paranoid, even though I am not. You will undoubtedly note the important difference.

The Respecting Reader Privacy post from last Sunday was only a small glimpse of my paranoia-in-practice, wrapped in an altruistic guise. Today, I give you a more in-depth look. I do this not to force anything on you, but simply to show you how much fun can be had with this persecution craze, how it can enrich your life. As a bonus, it will make you lose lots of friends, which means that you can then concentrate fully on the really important things. Like blogging, reading history books or watching re-runs of The X Files.

So, in the unlikely case that you want to emulate me, here it is. Ludwig's lesson on how to become a jibbering paranoiac, in seven easy steps (one for each day of the week):

1. Be aware that THEY are watching you. Being a successful paranoiac begins with the realisation that you are being watched, all the time, by everyone. Governments traditionally love to collect information about their citizens, in case one of them turns out to be a terrorist or a communist or whatever. After the September 11th attacks, they were finally able to get all the surveillance laws they ever dreamed of nodded through our parliaments (regardless of the fact that the September 11th terrorists could have been caught with the surveillance that was legally available back then, if only the authorities had been doing their job right).

Employers want to know more about the people they are employing. They will google your name, search your social network profiles and any forum posts you make, and who knows, the review you wrote on Amazon about "Beauty's Punishment" might also be of interest to them. Moreover, if your personal homepage shows pictures of your last birthday party, they will count the empty beer bottles to try and determine if you have an alcohol problem.

Social networking services and other internet companies will give out your private info to third parties. It does not matter what they say officially. First off, they will try to screw you over with their terms of service. Sharing of information is usually a deal which you have to opt out of, instead of you having to opt into it. And even when you do opt out of it, they will probably ignore it, anyway. There have been numerous well-documented issues lately involving Facebook and similar services. Of course, they get away with it because nine out of ten Facebook users are unaware of these practices, or don't care.

2. It takes a snoop to know a snoop. I am nowhere near as bad as Facebook. I will never, under any circumstances, give private information about people who write to me or meet me to someone else. This really is a sacred principle for me. However, what I will do, if my curiosity is aroused in any way, is have a look for myself. Just once, for the fun. So, if you send me a mail under your real name, I will probably google it. What else do you expect? I am a very curious person. If I wasn't, I would not be so bloody paranoid. And it really is interesting, some of the stuff you find out. Did you know that one of my readers has a job working for the... But let's not go there.

There is a lesson here, though: it takes one to know one. Try to put yourself in THEIR position. The more you learn to think like THEM, the more you study THEIR own methods, the better you will become at protecting yourself. So try to spy a little on people! With no malicious intent, just for your own education. You will learn quickly about all kinds of mistakes which the smart paranoiac avoids.

3. Not everyone is evil, but everyone is incompetent. It doesn't take malice on anyone's part to compromise your privacy. All it takes is a stupid little mistake. In two years of blogging, I have received more than one email that was obviously intended for someone else. Emails that might not only contain sensitive information about whoever was sending them, but also about the other kinky guy (or girl) who was really supposed to receive them. I usually get a panicky email one day later, saying oops, that one yesterday was a mistake! By that time, I have already deleted the mistaken mail. And no, I do not read them. I may be a very curious person, but even I have limits. Not everyone does, though. So check the address before you hit the "Send" button.

People who use the same email address for kinky friends, vanilla friends and work are in for an especially confusing time. Before you know it, they will forward your latest eulogy about the spanking party you went to on Saturday to their boss at the office by mistake. Okay, the boss will probably just have a chuckle and forget about it. But who knows. He might be one of THEM.

Or let's say that someone you corresponded with decides to get a new PC and sells their old one. So before he gives away the old one, he formats the hard drive - most people have at least that much decent paranoia in them. But what nobody ever realises is that, when you format a hard drive the standard way, nothing actually gets erased. File entries are deleted from the file system directory, but the files themselves remain on the drive and can be restored with any run-off-the-mill data recovery program. In order to really erase data from a hard drive, you have to use a specialised "wiping" program that over-writes the entire drive with random number patterns. I do this whenever I retire an old hard disk of mine. Then I smash it with a hammer and throw the pieces away in several different locations.

People make mistakes. That is why I do not trust them with my sensitive data. Not even the ones I trust.

4. Be greedy with your data. Now that we have established in the first three steps why paranoia is so justified, the next three will illustrate what to do. The most important rule is, be greedy with your data! Minimise the instances where you have to use real personal data on the internet. That is why I don't do online banking, for instance. And when you do not have to use real personal data, use a fake. I use a fake name and a junk email address on every stupid "Please, you need to register" form that comes my way. Actually, I have several fake names and junk mail addresses for that purpose only - the more variety, the more fun. Naturally, all the junk mail addresses were set up using fake names as well.

Now, some social network services or email providers have a clause in their terms of service which says that you are forbidden from using fake names, fake street addresses etc., because you are not allowed to "impersonate" someone else. This is a load of bollocks. You are not impersonating anyone else, you are simply making up a ficticious name for yourself. And with good reason, because companies like Facebook are notoriously sloppy with their users' privacy. Actually, I believe that our government's Federal Commissioner for Data Protection here in Germany recommended in an interview not long ago that people should use fake info on the internet whenever they can, because that is the best way to be safe. So when you sign into Facebook as Alan Smithee, you have the official blessing of the German government. For once, I agree with them.

5. Avoid connections like the plague. As much as you try to minimise the information that you leave on the internet about your real self, there will probably be something, somewhere. Maybe because your employer has it on his website, maybe because you want to purchase stuff in some online shop and have to use your real name. In that case, try to have no traceable connection of any shape or form between what is on the net about your real self and what is on the net about any alter ego of yours. For instance, if your profile on some BDSM forum says that your hobbies are "gardening, water skiing and my pet dogs", and a vanilla profile of yours somewhere else says the exact same thing, then that is pretty damn stupid, isn't it?

And for pity's sake, do not put pictures of you associated with your real name on the internet. Automated face-recognition software is getting better every year. So if you plan on being in a spanking video, it is not a good idea to have family photographs on one of your vanilla accounts somewhere. Besides, no one is interested in your stupid family photographs, anyway.

6. No protective measure is too ridiculous to implement. So far, we have only been talking about kid stuff. Even a novice paranoiac knows not to leave easy matches on Google. Advanced paranoia involves becoming a full-fledged computer nerd. Keeping up to date on protection and anonymisation software. Of course, that entails risks of its own. Do you trust the people who write the software and run the "anonymous" proxy servers? Certainly not. So the best thing might be to never go online from home at all. Visit internet cafés and wear gloves so you don't leave fingerprints on the keyboard.

And while you are getting all worried about computer security, do not forget the offline world. Material clues can be just as dangerous as digitalised ones. For instance, my girlfriend Kaelah has a bad habit which I have not been able to spank out of her yet. She likes to make printouts of blog posts or emails because she claims that she finds it easier to work on them when she is not sitting in front of the PC. Needless to say, these printouts are never just thrown into the trash when they are no longer needed. I insist that they are burned!

7. Realise that your efforts are ultimately futile. No matter what you do or how careful you are, THEY will get you in the end. THEY have tools you could not even dream of. So it is only a question of time. Enjoy your cover while it lasts. And remember, you are not being paranoid to be successful. You are being paranoid for fun.


Kaelah said...

„For instance, my girlfriend Kaelah has a bad habit which I have not been able to spank out of her yet. She likes to make printouts of blog posts or emails because she claims that she finds it easier to work on them when she is not sitting in front of the PC. Needless to say, these printouts are never just thrown into the trash when they are no longer needed. I insist that they are burned!“

I don’t have to tell you I’m living in hell, do I? But just in case your boyfriend is paranoid, too, here are my seven steps of happily living with a paranoiac:

1.) Try to look serious when telling him that he’s probably right and THEY might be out there. Laughing at his theories about conscious toasters is not recommendable and might make him depressive!

2.) Don’t show kinky photos to all of your party guests and don’t offer to lend them one of his movies (I’m talking about the ones with him as a guest star). At least not, when he is at the party, too!

3.) Don’t talk about what you are doing at the parties he doesn’t attend…

4.) Make sure he takes his tablets regularly! And don’t give him any reason to believe that THEY might have produced them to control him. In case he starts believing that, tell him that pizza is an effective alexipharmic agent.

5.) Give him an inconspicuous nickname which you can use in every possible environment. Something like “my sweet paranoid little tomcat”. Oh, and if you use the same nickname for all of your other boyfriends, too, it will make your life much simpler!

6.) Sometimes paranoiacs say funny things about themselves. So, if he tells you something like, for instance, that he is an impressive, evil and sadistic top, please don’t answer anything and nod silently. Even if it is absolutely obvious that he is nothing but a sweet little tomcat.

7.) The good news: Buying presents for paranoiacs is very easy! There are a lot of things you can choose from which will give your paranoiac hundreds of hours full of joy: Sledgehammers, document shredders, pocket lighters or, even better, flame throwers and last but not least lots and lots of books about conspiracy theories and how to protect oneself!

This message will self-destruct in five seconds. Should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, I will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck! ;-)

Karl Friedrich Gauss said...

I'm reminded of how famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson didn't want people to take any photographs of HIM -- because that way when he was out walking the streets in search of decisive moments, he wouldn't have to worry about being recognized as "that famous photographer".

And I'm sure you've heard the famous quote: "Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're NOT out to get you!"

Another advantage of being paranoid is that it gives you lots more excuses to spank your girlfriend for real and imagined "security breaches".

indy said...

@ Ludwig & Kaelah: This really made me laugh-- thanks!