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By Gina Channell-Allen

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About this blog: I am President of Embarcadero Media's East Bay Division and the publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly, Dublin TriValley Views, San Ramon Express and Danville Express. As a 25-plus-year veteran of the media industry, I have experience...  (More)

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Shall we trample the rose because of the thorns?

Uploaded: Jul 2, 2008
I recently received an email from a frequent Town Square contributor that said, "This morning I discovered that someone has falsely posted using my online identity."
This is not the first case of an "online identity theft," nor will it be the last.
I'm sorry, but the theft of an online identity is not our fault. If a person doesn't have the guts to participate in a conversation without using someone else's "name," mandatory registration nor special software will fix this problem.
The benefit of registration on the PleasantonWeekly.com site, which you can do at the top of the home page, is that it's easier to post comments because you don't have to retype your name and find your neighborhood on the ever-growing list on the dropdown menu. And you can track topics so you know when a new comment is added.
But it defeats the purpose of an open forum to make everyone register in order to post. Not only does it take away the anonymity some find protective, it doesn't guarantee immunity from "identity theft." A contributor can register on our site under any online name they want. I found the same is true with the New York Times site. The difference is that the New York Times doesn't immediately post to the site; they have editors who ferret through the comments before they go online, meaning not all posts are seen.
As the song goes, every rose has its thorns.
The purpose of Town Square is to have a community forum where people are not afraid to ask tough questions and bring things to community members and leaders without fear of reprisal. Those are a few petals of the rose; trolling, flaming and, in this case, identity theft, are a few of the thorns.
This theft issue is becoming all too frequent. However, I would like to believe that contributors would prefer to not have someone sifting through their comments deciding which ones to post and which to remove.
The Weekly staff will edit comments that do not adhere to our terms of use, such as posts containing profanity or "comments that are hateful, libelous or obscene , or that are threatening, abusive or offensive to any individual, group or class of person." However, you will see those as "Comments edited by Weekly staff." Only rarely do we completely remove a post, and that's only when the comment is so completely inane it's a waste of space and might deter other posts because it's completely off topic. We would rather let the contributors edit comments and make right what they perceive is wrong.
Town Square contributor Frank, who has been an identity theft victim, has devised a unique way of protecting his identity. In a recent forum he writes, "I am the real frank of Pleasanton Heights. To confirm go to (Web Link) and there you will see a copy of this post. This IP address is mine. Any other IP address is a counterfeit."
Tell me, would you rather us control who and what gets online? Or would you rather deal with the thorns as they come?

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Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to gallen@pleasantonweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 11:44 am

LOL! Watch for it, Gina.


Posted by Gina Channell-Allen, president of the Pleasanton Weekly,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 11:59 am

Gina Channell-Allen is a registered user.

Hi Stacey,
Watch for the comments on whether folks want us to control who and what gets posted? I really want feedback. (Which is why I posted this today because the column won't print again this week.... shortage of space.)

We really struggle with this. Being able to post anonymously is a privilege, but some folks abuse it. But what would we lose if we revoke that privilege because a few people aren't mature enough to handle it? (I'm having flashbacks of elementary school.) Would we have had the interaction we had with the teen suicides? Would we have found out about the ICE raid not long ago?

Please, tell me.


Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 1:40 pm

You are unnecessarily interlinking two separate issues: registering particular identities, and controlling who and what gets printed. You are therefore obfuscating the fundamental issue about identity counterfeiting.

Registering particular online identities DOES NOT destroy the anonymity of users, it simply forces users to have unique online monikers. You, the registrar, will have the ability to associate a online moniker with a password that you would require the person to input to register, but that password information would keep confidential as part of your policy and your software. Your blog software would only allow posts that were authenticated with user moniker and correct password. An extra step for the posters when they click SUBMIT, but this has nothing to do with you screening the posts. It's all done in the software!

Even now your server logs already associate posts with IP addresses, so registering an online moniker is not substantively changing the degree of anonymity that is already present.

How does this link with editing posts? So, when you print:

"This theft issue is becoming all too frequent. However, I would like to believe that contributors would prefer to not have someone sifting through their comments deciding which ones to post and which to remove."

you are terribly misleading the reader! It is my opinion that you simply are not understanding the technical issue and its various solutions. (I'll post this to my web page later....)


Posted by MainStreetDiva, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Gina,
Frank (if it truly is Frank!) has a good point. You can retain anonymity while still preventing users from representing someone else. These are two separate issues. (Censorship is a 3rd unrelated issue.)
For example, I could register under the name "MainStreetDiva" without revealing my identity. That's the anonymity part. But once I've registered that name, no-one else on the site should be able to use it. That's the name-counterfeiting solution.
-Barbara (who expects to be counterfeited any minute now)


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 2:39 pm

I don't think their SopeBox software supports unique names.


Posted by Frank Bravo, Embarcadero Publishing/Pleasanton Weekly Online Webmaster,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Frank Bravo is a registered user.

Stacey - Actually, the username for the site is unique to the system. If you were to register as 'Stacey', nobody will be able to create another registration with that name. Registering a name, however, does not stop someone from posting a comment to the site using that name if they are unregistered or not logged in.

Frank (above) - I think that Gina was saying that registering takes away the 'anonymity' of the person from 'us', not from the public. This is what Barbara (MainStreetDiva) is saying in her post. You are correct that there are other ways that we can 'see' who a person is, but it becomes a lot easier if we require registration and require the registrant to give us certain information to become active.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

That's really the crux of the problem. The software doesn't display a post by a registered user any differently than one by a non-registered poster. The problem is compounded when non-registered posters are allowed to contribute.

In a lot of ways this is similar to the problem with email where the "From" heading can be anything (and the address on the envelope can be counterfeited by the sending mail software) and why the email industry came up with things like SPF and DomainKeys.


Posted by Frank Bravo, Embarcadero Publishing/Pleasanton Weekly Online Webmaster,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 4:35 pm

Frank Bravo is a registered user.

Stacey-

We are currently looking at a host of upgrades for TownSquare and one of the things that is already on the list is a designation for posts from people who are registered vs. those that are not.


Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Jul 2, 2008 at 8:20 pm

MainStreetDiva stated it well. This authentication process for closed systems is as old as the web. A user registers its unique user ID and at the same time registers a secret password. Once the user ID is registered, the system allows no one else to register that user ID. Whenever a transaction is conducted by the user in the closed system, the password is required to effect completion of the transaction. Since only the authentic user knows the password, the transaction is valid. In the PW case, the transaction is simply the display of the user's posting.

Email is not a good example to compare with if one were to say there are problems with this authentication process. Email is an open system, not a closed system. Closed systems have complete knowledge of the registered user base and the associated passwords. Open systems don't. In a closed system there is no work-around for enforced authentication.

To answer Frank Bravo's point: This authentication process requires no information about the user. User ID and password, period. Then, you lockout future users who attempt to register the same user ID. If the PW feels it would additionally need to gather other information about users in order to register, that would be your choice. It is not required. So, how is anonymity reduced by registration where only a user ID and password are required?

(Note: my personally implemented method of authenticating my frank of Pleasanton Heights user ID by posting a copy to an IP address relies upon this same method. The web server is a closed system, it has previously registered my website user ID and password to allow only me transactional access. See Web Link)


Posted by Jacob, a resident of Canyon Oaks,
on Jul 7, 2008 at 1:10 am

I just think of a random name when I post, and pick a random neighborhood. It's possible I've used someone else's name without realizing it.


Posted by Claudette McDermott, a resident of Del Prado,
on Jan 12, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Jacob (?) Why not be yourself? Responses are just opinions... just be cordial.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Oct 12, 2010 at 11:28 am

Stacey is a registered user.

"If a person doesn't have the guts to participate in a conversation without using someone else's "name," mandatory registration nor special software will fix this problem."

This statement especially reflected the lack of technical understanding of the issue. As Frank Bravo above pointed out, Sopebox limits usernames to a unique key in the database. That means no two registered users can use the same username. So if registration is mandatory to post, then the software does in fact "fix this problem".


Posted by Prefer it open, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Nov 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm

The posts clearly state:
So and So Stacey is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com
when the poster is registered.

But I much prefer the system as it is now.
I for one post where I would not if I had to register, and I think there is a lot of good info posted that I might not read elsewhere.
IWhere you restricted to just Registered, it gets boring fast.

I trust that the PW should edit only really objectionable stuff, and I'm upset that apparently they have been deep sixing points of view that they don't agree with.

Can you guys be more open?


Posted by Suzy Q, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Nov 15, 2010 at 9:57 am

I also have posted under many names. Why? A friend of mine posted under his own name in the hope of having a meaningful discussion about a topic a year ago. The venom that spewed forth was amazing. He was called so many names - amount them Nazi - that he vowed never to post again. And the name callers were of course, all anonymous.

Maybe a few ruin for us all, but I rarely post and will avoid using my own name. And when I see a mean post, I stay off the PW for a couple of months. Why even bother?

OBTW, I am also the original Suzy Q and someone else was using that name and it does not bother me at all.


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