Pragmatic Anonymity

     The Problem

     The thing is, all the anonymizing knowledge in the world won't do you a lick of good if you're the only one (or even one of a small group) that knows it. Whenever someone receives your mail, anonymized with the most sophisticated techniques known to modern information theory, they can instantly deduce who it's from: it had to be from someone who knew how to set up an anonymous email. So much for anonymity.

     The Idea

     Create an account with an anonymization service. Tell everyone about that account, including the password. The account basically acts as a public mail drop, anyone can use it to send messages, with no way for the recipient to determine who originally sent it. The more people that know about this account, the better, since it makes the list of potential recipients longer and longer. If you choose the anonymizer service well, then technical means of identifying the sender will be impossible, and if you make sure enough people know about it, then the pragmatic means (i.e. "I only know one person who might set this up, so I know who sent it") are also stopped short.

     The Implementation is a web based email service that prides itself on security and by extension, anonymity. They allow you to create regular accounts, but also allow the creation of auto-generated accounts with no personal information stored whatsoever. Further, unlike other webmail services, they do NOT include any IP address information in outgoing mail, meaning the recipient cannot trace the mail to the sender. This opens hushmail up to the possibility of being exploited by dumbasses who want to piss someone off without being found. On the other hand, it makes them one of the most valuable resources on the internet. The deciding factor is just whether the users are dumbasses or not, please try not to be a dumbass.

     To demonstrate that they include no personal information, I sent myself an email with the account I created for this purpose, here are the full contents of that email, including all mail headers (where IP address and other information is normally stored):

Received:                  from ([]) by (8.8.8/8.8.8) with ESMTP id RAA05603 for
                 <>; Fri, 5 Nov 1999 17:05:03 -0500 (EST)
                 (from root@localhost) by (8.8.7/8.8.7) id NAA11445; Fri, 5 Nov 1999 13:55:23 -0800
                 Fri, 5 Nov 1999 17:04:11 -0500 (EST)

this is a test
Get HushMail. The world's first free, fully encrypted, web-based email system.
Speak freely with HushMail....

Tada! No personal info whatsoever. Of course, it mentions my email address, but only because I was the recipient of this particular email, no personal info about the SENDER,, is included. The only remaining trick is to get as many people familiar with how to use it as possible, so here's all the information you need:

login: auto28326
passphrase: anonymity
email address:

     That's it. Just go to hushmail's main page, give em that login, and that passphrase, and you're in. Any mail you send will be anonymous, but moreover, even if you never use it, the fact that you know how ensures that mail other people send will be anonymous. You'll notice that I went and did the unthinkable - posted the password to a public web page. Of course I did! I *want* random strangers using this account. If the entire internet used this account regularly, it would guarantee total anonymity. A note though, by giving out this information, I risk having it fall into the hands of some dumbass who gets in, then changes the passphrase so no one else can use it. This accomplishes nothing, since the information here will work perfectly well with any other account too, since any reader could always create their OWN anonymous hushmail account, all it does is piss people off, and not much at that. Hope it doesn't happen.

     Cool Footnote

     I realized after I wrote this that there's an interesting process going on here. Call me a cognitive scientist if you must, but I can't help but notice something about this process that I haven't seen in many other parts of the universe - knowing something, without ever doing anything about it, or ever expressing that knowledge in any way, has an effect on the world. By knowing how to use this anonymity stuff, you add yourself to the list of possible senders for any message coming out of this account. Even if you never use it, your knowledge makes someone else more anonymous. Pardon my rant, but I think that's cool. :)