Caught between meddlesome governments and bloodsucking corporations intent on harvesting your data, it’s hard not to feel like a rat in a maze built by leeches. Privacy may be dead, but in this series we’ll be examining various small ways to take back control of your life and secure your data, as well as how to generally subvert the organizations trying to control you. Our first topic? How to receive mail anonymously.
Who Needs Privacy? I’ve Got Nothing To Hide!
Exploring the world was difficult before the internet. Not only was air travel was much more expensive — maps didn’t live in the cloud, they lived in crumpled stacks in the glove compartment of our cars.
Today, anyone with an internet connection can type any address into Google Maps and instantly get a detailed satellite image of the location and have the directions sent to their phone. Convenient if you want to get somewhere, but more than a little creepy once you consider that anybody can have all this at their fingertips just as easily as you can, provided they have an address . . . your address, for example.
With just a little extra effort they can download Google Earth and use Street View to have a virtual roam around your neighborhood without even bothering to visit in person, plus camera-quality pictures of your front door, all available from anywhere in the world. Download it yourself if you haven’t already. It’s a fun toy. Here’s the virtual reality version on Steam if you happen to have a VR headset and want to experience the shock of seeing the outside your own house in virtual reality while sitting in your bedroom.
Electronic stalking considerations aside, this comes with real world implications. Anybody who so much as sees your address on an envelope can show up at your door, mail anthrax and glitter bombs to you, or for a couple hundred dollars they can buy a camera drone to fly past your house and take pictures through your windows.
When You Put It That Way . . . Tell Me How To Receive Mail Anonymously!
Let’s say you don’t want to give somebody that power, but as a member of modern society you do still want to be able to receive packages. Maybe you’ve recently broken up with a psychotic ex, then changed your phone number and moved away, but for legal reasons you still need to receive mail from them. Maybe you want to order a product without signing up for 20-year’s worth of junk mail. Maybe you’re concerned about big data correlating one specific purchase with another made on another date. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why you might want something mailed to you without attaching your personal address to it. Or maybe you don’t even care about that and just don’t want that sex toy you ordered sitting on your front porch all day where anybody can see it.
Sure, you might get a Post Office Box. If you don’t mind paying for it, if there’s one available, and if you don’t mind anyone being able to simply locate you anyway because registering a PO Box requires you to hand over your explicit mailing address.
Fortunately there’s a much better, safer, cheaper option for which anonymity is much more assured.
US Postal Service General Delivery
USPS General Delivery is a standard service offered by a large majority of US post offices. It’s intended to provide mail service for people on the move, traveler, people in rural areas that lack regular carrier service, and for people without a home address at all, like the homeless. But anyone can use it, there’s no charge, and no preparation or account registration is required.
How does it work? Simply replace your street address with “General Delivery.”
Bob Smith 12345 Streetway Road Seattle, WA 98112 BECOMES Bob Smith General Delivery Seattle, WA 98112
When the Seattle post office receives the package, they’ll hold on to it for 10-30 days, during which time you can pick it up at your leisure. Simply walk in and explain that you’re there to pick up a General Delivery package, present your ID, and it’s yours. No third party lookup is possible, because no correlation exists. Anyone who sees the shipping label knows only your name and the city the package was sent to.
What’s more? It’s not necessary to have the package sent to the city you actually live in. Nothing stops you from making a general delivery pickup in another town, say twenty miles away, maybe in the next county? Or across state lines if you really value your privacy. A PO Box is adequate for some purposes, but if all of your mail goes to the same PO Box, big data will correlate that to you pretty quickly. If you have 99% of your mail delivered to your home address, but just that one sketchy package delivered to a General Delivery post office in another city without your address attached to it at all.
That could be enough to throw the identity hounds off your scent.