Can One Live Anonymously?

I’ve spent the last few months working with an excellent journalist on the Anonymity Experiment, which will appear in this month’s Popular Science magazine. In it, Catherine Price attempts to live a normal life without revealing personal data:

…when this magazine suggested I try my own privacy experiment, I eagerly agreed. We decided that I would spend a week trying to be as anonymous as possible while still living a normal life. I would attempt what many believe is now impossible: to hide in plain sight.


Tall and friendly, Hoofnagle has an enthusiastic way of talking about privacy violations that could best be described as “cheerful outrage.” He laid out my basic tasks: Pay for everything in cash. Don’t use my regular cellphone, landline or e-mail account. Use an anonymizing service to mask my Web surfing. Stay away from government buildings and airports (too many surveillance cameras), and wear a hat and sunglasses to foil cameras I can’t avoid. Don’t use automatic toll lanes. Get a confetti-cut paper shredder for sensitive documents and junk mail. Sign up for the national do-not-call registry (ignoring, if you can, the irony of revealing your phone number and e-mail address to prevent people from contacting you), and opt out of prescreened credit offers. Don’t buy a plane ticket, rent a car, get married, have a baby, purchase land, start a business, go to a casino, use a supermarket loyalty card, or buy nasal decongestant. By the time I left Hoofnagle’s office, a week was beginning to sound like a very long time.

Her week is very interesting, and she experiences some funny anecdotes in buying a wireless phone anonymously, getting to and from San Francisco, and using the internet with anonymous proxies. Worth a read!