Sitemeter and Privacy

Dan Solove brings up some privacy issues with using sitemeter on blogs:

But Site Meter also lists the IP address of each visitor, something that the public really doesn’t need to see. An IP address is a unique numerical identifier that is assigned to every computer connected to the Web. It doesn’t reveal your name, but it can be used to trace back to the specific computer you used or be linked to your account with an ISP. In other words, your IP address can be used to find out who you are.

So all this made me realize that we do have some data about you and we need to construct a privacy policy. Regarding Site Meter, bloggers who use the premium Site Meter service (which we use) display full IP addresses in their public stats. Those who use the free version of Site Meter have the IP addresses partially blocked out in their public stats. Site Meter has an option to conceal all the stats, but it doesn’t allow for only concealing or partially blocking IP addresses. The choices are to publicly display everything or conceal nearly everything.

Dan then asks some questions:


1. Do you find our public visitor stats via Site Meter to be useful? If so, why?
2. Do you find it problematic for your IP addresses to be publicly displayed in Site Meter and other visitor tracking services?


3. Did you realize that when you visit our blog and others, that your IP address and other information are publicly available in our Site Meter logs?
4. Did you realize that when you make an anonymous comment on our blog, it is possible to link up your IP address with your comment via Site Meter stats?
5. Did you realize that when you make an anonymous comment on our blog, our blogging software records your IP address, which could be subpoenaed?


6. Should we continue on as usual (public Site Meter stats with full IP addresses)? Or should we block full IP addresses from public view?
7. If there’s a tradeoff between having public stats with full IP addresses and no public stats at all, which of these options would you prefer?
8. What should our policy be if we are requested by others or subpoenaed to provide identifying information (an IP address or email address) for an anonymous or pseudonymous commenter?

I would like to hear some answers to these as well, because at least for denialism blog, I would like people to feel comfortable leaving anonymous comments. I, unlike cranks who go insane over anonymity, am quite happy to have people protect their identity. I would rather have input (non-cranky input at least) from as many people as possible, and I understand that many people are not in positions where they would like their opinions tracked back to them for a variety of good reasons.

I will also make the following points in terms of our informal privacy policy.
1. I will never release email addresses or IP numbers for any reason.
2. Even if I remove sitemeter from the blog, I will still see IPs etc. based on MT’s comment system, and I will only use it when sockpuppetry or some other malfeasance is at issue.
3. I will never attempt to break someone’s anonymity using IP or private email address, except of course, in the case of sockpuppetry or other misbehavior in which someone is abusing comments in multiple names, assuming false identities, or generally causing confusion by misidentifying themselves.
4. If you do leave a link or enough information in the post or the name field for me to figure out who you are in a google search, you are fair game for identification.

I would encourage other sciencebloggers to discuss their privacy rules. I can’t recall a single instance of abuse by my sciblings (although I have seen some on other blogs like Huffpo) and for the most part this stuff is common sense. But people may feel more comfortable, and the conversations more open if they know we won’t actively try to “out” anyone just for pissing us off. In the meantime I’ve upped the privacy on sitemeter as well so people can’t view the IP reports (or anything else really, I wish it were more customizable).