Monday 11 July 2011

...And Now For Something Completely Different

This is not about sex, and not about The Sex Myth. This is about the old blog, and the growing scandal in News International's paper the rules they played by. And as Prince Humperdinck so eloquently put it, I always think everything could be a trap.

Very early on in blogging as Belle de Jour, I had an email address associated with the blog. It was with one of those free email providers and not very secure. Later, I wised up a touch and moved to doing everything through Hushmail. But for some reason I kept the old email up and running, and checked it occasionally.

So on the day of the book's release in the UK, I logged on to a public library computer in Clearwater, Florida, and had a look at that old account. There was a new message from someone I didn't recognise. I opened it.

The message was from a journo at the Sunday Times. It was short, which struck me as unusual: Come on Belle, not even a little hint? There was an attachment. The attachment started downloading automatically (then if I remember correctly, came up with a "failed to download" message).

My heart sank - my suspicion was that there had been a program attached to the message, some sort of trojan, presumably trying to get information from my computer.

Now, I understood the papers regarded all of this as a game. There were accusations that the anonymity thing was a ruse to pump sales. It wasn't. I was really afraid of losing my job and my career if found out. But I knew the rules they played by. And as Prince Humperdinck so eloquently put it, I always think everything could be a trap.

I did several things:

1. Alerted library staff that I thought there had been a virus downloaded on to the computer, so they could deal with it.

2. Phoned a friend who knew my secret. I explained what happened. He agreed to log in to that email account from where he lived, halfway around the world, open the email and send a reply, so they would have competing IP address information.

3. Alerted the man who owned the .co.uk address pointing to my blog, someone called Ian (who to my knowledge I have never met). He confirmed he had been contacted by the Times and asked if I was indeed in Florida. He told them he didn't know (which was true).

Point 3 is the part that makes me think my suspicions were correct. I hadn't replied to the message from the computer in Florida, so why would they have a Florida IP address? They did get a reply from "my" account, but it would have had an IP address from Australia.

(It's been suggested on Twitter that this could also have been because of a read receipt or embedded images. However, if my memory serves - and it usually does - the service I used did not send read receipts and I had images/HTML off as a matter of habit. There could of course be other explanations for what happened, but it is certainly true that the Times were trying hard to find me. Thanks for the comments, I hope this answers any concerns.)