I’ve got an Anti-AOL reader who recently used their AOL email to whistleblow in such a way that their life is now possibly endangered. Given that this person got to this point over not knowing how to send anonymous email anonymously, I thought a quick tutorial on how to do it right, especially if you use AOL email, might be a good idea.
When using AOL email is a fairly safe and anonymous way to communicate
- When you sign into AOL’s dial-up software (the thing that yells “You’ve got mail!”) with your computer’s dial-up modem as your only connection to the Internet while using an anon-looking username that reveals no personal info in your AOL or Bebo profile. So you sit down at your PC, open your AOL software, sign in as gooblygookhaha!1!11, then listen as your dial-up modem screeches until it connects. So far, so good. Now you send an email directly from your AOL software. This is a fairly good way to hide your IP address (the number that can reveal your approximate location to others who view the headers of your email). The tl;dr technical explanation on why this is a fairly anon way to communicate is here.
- HUGE CAVEAT: Even this method is not a bulletproof way to hide your identity or location from anyone. All it takes is one court order from a sufficiently determined party to force AOL to hand over your contact and billing details to any interested legal authority.
When using AOL email is not a fairly safe nor anonymous way to communicate (that is: most of the time)
- Say you sign into AOL’s dial-up software with any username that resembles your real name, such as iampatsyclineha!ha!1!1. Won’t work. Forget it.
- Say you sign into AOL’s dial-up software with a username like gooblygookhaha!1!11 but your Bebo or AOL profile contains info like your street address, home state, phone number, pictures of you, other email addresses tied to your real name, AIM and other chat handles tied to your real name, comments indexed by Google under the username, etc. Won’t work. Forget it.
- Say you sign into AOL’s software at home or work using any ISP besides AOL dial-up (such as Verizon, Comcast, Brighthouse, Time Warner Communications, CenturyLink, etc.). Doing so will reveal your IP address to AOL, which in turn will force your IP to show up in the headers of email you send from AOL or from any other email client (such as Outlook or Thunderbird) or any other online email service (such as AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.) that you use.
- When you sign into AOL’s online email from any connection to the Internet besides AOL dial-up.
- When you use your old cell phone, current iPhone, new smart phone, PDA, Blackberry, Android tablet or any other smart/wifi-enabled device to sign into AOL’s online email.
How to ensure you remain anonymous while using AOL email
This is where I review a few key points and make some suggestions to help you play it safe.
- Don’t use a connection to the Internet from your broadband, DSL, or cell phone service provider to use AOL email. If you use AOL’s dial-up software with your dial-up modem to connect to the Internet, do make sure you sign into AOL with an anon-looking username with no profile/contact info or comments tied to it that might reveal your true identity. Do be aware that even this is not a bulletproof way to remain anonymous.
- Do use the free wifi (wireless Internet connection) available at public libraries, cafes, and other hotspots where people congregate in large, mostly unknown masses. But for an extra layer of protection, don’t sign into AOL’s online email from any hotspot until you visit a free web proxy. Choose a proxy from the list on any free proxy website by clicking on it, then on the next page you see, type in the address you want to visit (like http://aol.com/), then press the Enter button on your keyboard or click the button next to or below the address box you just filled in.
- For maximum anonymity, do forget about using AOL email altogether. Also forget about using Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail, or any other “normal” online email service, as all of them will throw your IP address up in the headers of any email you send. Instead, go to your chosen hotspot, connect to a free web proxy (you can then connect to another proxy from the first one, if you’re really paranoid or just need to take every possible precaution), then use a disposable or highly anonymous email address to get your super-seekret business done.
Caveat Emptor, yo: This page does not represent an exhaustive list of options for sending anonymous email, nor does following the suggestions here guarantee you will remain anonymous. Following them may simply help reduce your chances of exposure.