Putting up your own website? Consider ALL the risks

I do not want to discourage you from sharing information and experiences with others, but I would strongly advise against putting up your own website if you plan to keep the option of stealth. I have met too many TS women who did not carefully consider this decision. After an initial attempt to be out and proud and all that, they later decided to pull back entirely and took down their sites. Unfortunately, it's very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Once your personal information and real name are out there, there will always be a record somewhere. And you'll never know when it will come back to haunt you. Others may link to your stuff, take stuff from your site and put it out there, etc. Search engines may keep you listed for years.

There's even a site called archive.org that maintains permanent copies of old websites. Forever. There will always be a record of anything you post on the web, so you must very carefully consider the risks before putting yourself out there.

I have a deep stealth friend who did a `zine a few years ago chronicling some of her life. Somebody put it online, and now it's floating around out there both physically and in cyberspace with her full name and everything.

If you do decide to put one up, even one that makes no mention of your TS status, it is possible for people who knew you before to make the connection.

In my own case, I recently had a weblog of "weird" sites link to my facial feminization photos. This led to a deluge of unwanted visitors from outside the community to this site. I ended up moving my photos because of it, and thought seriously about taking them down altogether. You may not feel this way when you first start doing a site, but over time, these sorts of things can really start to wear on you. You get to the point where you have a plain old ordinary life, but people think all this is some big freak show. If you want to keep your TS status a private matter, you'd be smart to keep it off the Internet and out of the public eye.

Safest option: anonymous information submitted to another site

If you want to put up info that can help others, I suggest submitting it to an established site where it won't be linked to you. Simply strip your submitted information of personal details and contact information that might identify you.

Not safe: restricted access site

You may think it unlikely that your web page will be found, but many people and companies regularly do searches on names and other identifying information, so if the search engines index your pages, they may be found by an audience you didn't intend. Limiting access can reduce, but not eliminate, this sort of risk. Access to web pages can be controlled in a number of ways:

  • Limit what the search engines can index
  • Control access by IP address
  • Allow access by password only

Not safe: your own domain

If you do decide to do a site, I advise bringing it out anonymously and without pictures of yourself or identifying information. If you do decide to do a personal site, I recommend doing it through AOL, GeoCities, etc. rather than having your own domain (like janedoe.com). If you do decide to set up your own domain, you might consider a name that's relatively anonymous, like genderpeace.com, rather than using your own name.

No matter what name you choose, if you register a domain, your personal information will be a matter of public record. A reader writes:

I was just looking at your Internet Safety page and there is something that I think should be added to the page - registering your own domain name. The registration records for all domain names are available for querying at http://www.netsol.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois. As you already know, it is prudent to get a PO Box and not use your real name and phone number in the registration info.

Very true. I've had people call me at work and hang out near my house looking for me because of information they found in my domain registration. As I said earlier, a website can greatly jeopardize any chances of going stealth.

Excluding robots and crawlers

There are two ways that can help reduce but not eliminate the chance your site will be archived by a search engine:

  • Through the robots.txt file. This standard can be found at http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/robots.html
  • Through a less known and not frequently used robots exclude html meta tag.

    It is possible to make a request to many search engines and archives to with the specific url path page(s) and/or url path directory to be excluded. Note that they may review these requests for legitimacy, as there is no way to be absolutely sure that someone other then the author is making the request.

A reader writes:

It is still possible to be stealthy and exposed on the net. Here are a few pointers on how to have a site but avoid crawling/archiveing/indexing.

1) most crawlers do not know how to get passed a password so a simple front page that requires a password to click through will stop almost all crawler/archivers. Heck, you can even print the password on the page since the robots that crawl are all really dumb! This trick is really simple and gets your front page indexed but nothing underneath!

2) You can also use a Secure Server. That is, a server that encrypts and uses the https headers. A robot that is a good netizen will not crawl an https site (secure server site).

3) Then there is robots.txt. To use robots.txt it must be located in the root directory which means you must control the root directory of the domain. This is not practical for sites like geocities.com where a site is really a subdirectory and the author has no control over the root directory of the site.

4) There is an html meta tag called <meta no-archive>. This does not work really well because the crawler/archiver has to read the page in the first place to find the meta tag. Many crawler/archivers do not try to parse html while crawling and the meta tag is found later during post processing for links. The result is that one page, the page with the <meta no-archive> probably gets saved, however, a well behaved crawler will not follow links on that page.

Those are the most common ways to make your site part of the dark matter of the web! (oh yes! dark matter, black holes, supernovas you name it and there is an example of it on the web!)

Even if you get the robots, you can't stop those humans

The problem I've had has not been with robots, but with humans. People will print stuff out, make copies on their hard drive, mirror your site, or steal your text and images outright for whatever reason they see fit. Trust me.

I am a very open and giving person, but I am amazed how people will steal your content and put it wherever they want. Even members of our own community (like that Brit scumbag Crissy Wild) sometimes have no qualms stealing from us for their own benefit.

Try not to include personal information that could be used to identify you.

Photos

Never NEVER put up or email photos of yourself until you have carefully considered ALL the risks. Once they are floating around, they are going to be floating around the web FOREVER. No lie. And they could end up anywhere.

I know two women who were not out at work who got outed because they had personal sites with photos that linked them to transition-related materials. Never put up anything you wouldn't put up on a bulletin board at work or school, or on a telephone pole on a busy street.

Even someone you trust might decide to forward it to someone, after which your photos could go anywhere.

I especially recommend not sending out any sexually suggestive photos, as these tend to get circulated among transfans, TGs and others and can end up anywhere.

People have taken photos of mine and:

  • Created bogus identities using my photos
  • Put them on sex sites
  • Identified me as transsexual without my knowledge or permission
  • Manipulated them in PhotoShop in sexual ways.

If you do decide to float your photos out into the cyber universe, don't put up photos with others in them (esp. other women in the community), unless you have their permission. I used to have up some photos of friends, but people stole them from my site. Even the ones who weren't transsexual were getting lewd comments via email to me.

Make sure the names on your photos don't have identifying information, like "christine.jpg" or "ts.gif." Also, make sure the photo itself doesn't have any information, like the license plate number of your car, your house address, etc.

Identifying information in photos

If you do put up photos, blur out any identifying information first:

  • License plate
  • Make and model of car
  • House number
  • Outside of house
  • Street signs
  • Place of work
  • Clothing with identifying information (school, place of work)
  • Other people who do not wish to be identified

A reader notes:

Many cameras and most image manipulation programs add EXIF metadata to the JPEG images they create. The standard info usually recorded in the EXIF is shutter speed, time/date taken, etc... but it can also contain personally identifiable information. Some advanced cameras include the model and serial or registration number of the camera, which can be used to match photos taken with the same camera regardless of their source, and as unlikely as that seems it has happened before. Images created with image manipulation programs or image scanners can contain even more personal information. Some scanner and image editing programs running on Windows insert the name with which you registered your operating system into the comments section of the EXIF, which is extrememly dangerous because most people use their real names when registering things. Even more ominously than that, some high-end camera phones with GPS function even record the GPS coordinates in the EXIF data, I don't think I even need to elaborate on how dangerous that is.

If you have a website with images, graphics or photos of any kind I'd recommend you strip their EXIF and comment data first. A lot of freeware programs will do this. With XNView (xnview.com) you can click on Tools > Batch Processing then add the photos you want. Check the boxes that say "Delete original" and "Use original path (as output)" In the drop-down menu labelled "Format" select "JPEG" then click the "Options" button next to it, in the popup box that appears un-check both "Keep EXIF data" and "Keep IPTC data" hit OK then click "Go". The program will keep the filename and location on your hard disc, but will remove all potentially personally identifiable information.

If you plan to keep the option of stealth, I strongly suggest NEVER sending out any photos. I cannot emphasize this enough.

In this section:

Transgender web safety

Safely visiting transgender websites

Safely interacting with others online

Putting up your own website: pros and cons

How to minimize an existing web presence

Readers who have been outed online

Reader tips: online safety

Other web resources