Secret and Hidden Identities

Sep 15 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I obviously use a pseudo, as do many of my internet friends. I have no idea who they are IRL. I’m pretty sure none of them are my friend in the next office, as he is upfront about his interests which do not include blogging. There are lots of people who know me IRL, and I’ve even met some of them. That’s ok, I feel less like I need to be cloaked these days. But in the beginning it felt differently. I am using the word “feel” a lot, which is accurate. This wasn’t a well thought out decision at the time.

The University of Rochester thing brings up a point, distantly related to pseudos: if there is anything, anything, on your work computer that can link pseudo-blogging-tweeting you back to Real Big (or not-so-Big) Scientist you, it can be used against you.

Fighty squirrel has a good post on this. I may be just echoing the combatative sciurus, but it is worth echoing again.

Do not think that “oh my advisor/chair/dean/mentor loves me, really, really supports me”. Seasons change, and so do advisors/chairs/deans and mentors. Even if anyone in the chain of command above you does love you, does care about you, and even has protected you in the past, they may not be able to shield you from the Dread Pirate Roberts University lawyer. If the UR thing has taught us anything, it is that Universities perceive themselves as an entity with a reputation to protect, which they will over the needs and possibly truths of individuals whom they employ.

Aside: I know a story where this was not true. It was not me, but very close. The university did The Right Thing, even though it was expensive, and ultimately involved a real world civil court trial. There was an easy, cheap and face-saving out. But it would have been wrong and someone, somewhere high up in the University hierarchy said no to the easy solution. They supported the faculty member, and both uni and faculty were vindicated in the end. Everyone was shocked at all the choices made, and it was horrible for the faculty person. It is one story, and I cannot give the details. But, having watched my friend go through this, no matter what a trial looks like in the movies or on TV, you do not want to be involved in one. [do not cue up lawyer jokes. I know many fine lawyers who believe, unlike our president, in the Rule of Law. It is a very good thing to have the rule of law in our lives. I appreciate that there are lawyers who believe in it. But that doesn’t make a trial any less difficult on the non-lawyer participants, no matter what the role].

Many of you don’t blog. But nearly everyone does email, despite the fact that everyone says Millennials don’t. Yeah, yeah, but you do at work. And with every email you send, you should be thinking: the Dean could read this. The head of the grad affairs committee could read this. My mentor could read this.

Do not write anything (with work /uni email) without being aware of the greater audience who could by reading your every keystroke.

There is the equivalent of a key-stroke logger on your computer that is on the uni network. It might be that bringing your own laptop mitigates that problem. But it might not.

I have a friend who is of the view that he is lost amongst the squillions of xeno-terra-mera-hera bytes. That his little rivulet of words are lost in the ocean of University crap.

To this I say: fah. I say sure, until you are sucked up in some investigation. Go read fighty squirrel's examples. It, the problem, the cause, might have nothing to do with you at all, but that weirdo student in the next lab. S/he did something really weird that Concerns The Administration now. And in that first year you had carrels in the same room. And it turns out the weirdo was dealing drugs, or stealing bytes or banging the dean’s son. And now there is an investigation and they want to know what you know, and not about the Krebs Cycle.

There is good justification for keep your identities as separate as you can. They OWN your electronic university stuff. You do not.


6 responses so far

  • Ola says:

    Interesting anecdote: I fired up TOR the other day (occasionally use it for pseud things). Got a 'phone call from IT Dept. half an hour later - "had I been visiting any nefarious websites recently?" Turns out, when that whole WannaCry virus thing happened, it trafficked through one of the common TOR exit nodes. My use of TOR triggered an alaert because they had blacklisted the IP address.

    What this means is quite worrisome - unless I want to have a dressing-down from IT every few days, I can't functionally use TOR at work. I guess the red flag should have been the link to download and install TOR is blocked. But, I was using my own laptop and had downloaded and installed TOR at home so I skipped that hurdle.

    Of course, that's why cellphone tethering to create a WiFi hotspot for your laptop exists 😉

  • wally says:

    At my previous University, an administrator was caught doing things from her private email and through texting on her phone (her own phone) that the University disliked. We were thus warned that anything we send using our private emails - even from our own computers - or any texts we send could be used as part of an investigation. This made me very nervous as I used texting to communicate with a colleague about my abusive department head. In that university, the only safe modes of communication were in person or on the phone (or using a text messaging system that didn't retain any data).

    Also, if you use a private email address but email someone on their university email, that's not a safe way to communicate either.

  • bethann says:

    Gracias for the blog shout out. I couldn't agree more. I have had my emails handed to me a in 3 inch thick envelop. It was sickening.

    While I blog on Edge for Scholars, this site is hosted by a University, so I use a very thin pseud....just enough that you can't click over to my IRL lab without a tiny bit of poking.

    Sometimes my university requests I break that pseud because what I'm saying makes them ....(fill in some words here)....enough they want to make sure I'm speaking for myself.

    Side note - As if anyone would put me in charge of speaking on behalf of a university.
    My first statement....FREE GIN AT THE PRESIDENTS HOUSE!!!

    Know that the flip of this blog is equally true. If you are sending emails to someone at a university address, they also can be pulled up.

    For twitter, I would recommend the deepest pseud ever (no one but you, really, no one but you) or an aggregator account where a bunch of folks tweet. I'd like to see more women buy into the aggregators.

    I'd also like every single jackass out there who tries to break a pseud to know you're a bum. Pseuds are used by people in science who are vulnerable and you are pretty much taking a crap on them to show that you have good gossip.

    • Drugmonkey says:

      Nothing makes me stare over the top of my Internet Dad glasses more than this.

      DO NOT ever think that there is any such thing as a "deepest pseud ever" that will be ironclad protection if things go deep into the weeds.

  • When I worked at National Lab, I knew many people by the Powers that Be who were confronted with things they wrote in emails/did on the Web/said on the phone. We all knew our phones, Internet use, and emails were monitored, which meant that there was a culture of meeting face to face on delicate topics, and usage of non-work email accounts was frequent. And even so, there were accidents. It is really hard to stay private in the Internet age.

    • chall says:

      ahh... the phone calls and the face to face. It's like the "pre-email conversations" where it's discussed what to write in the email for a paper trail. paranoid? well, it doesn't mean they are not out to get you. (as the famous ? qoute goes)

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