Saturday, October 27, 2012

Identity and Anonymity

Not really a technical writing issue, but: Looking at all the concern about Internet privacy, I'm wondering if we're all missing the point. Maybe it would make more sense to approach the problem from the point of view of ensuring anonymity? After all, I don't really care if the details of my bank account become available provided that those details aren't associated with my name. I notice that, when people do worry about internet privacy, often what they worry about is "identity theft"--perhaps our goal should be to keep everyone's identity hidden.

Of course, ensuring anonymity isn't a trivial task. I'm told that 70% of the people who post frequently on several forums can be identified from the content of their postings (especially if they use the same name on all of the forums they post to). Still, I would think that disconnecting your "real world" identity from your "Internet identity" is easier than trying to keep everything hidden especially when the point of the Internet is to create a universal public place.

And I think that there are benefits here: the enourmous amount of data that would become available for analysis to help us understand what the world is doing would, all by itself, be a valuable resource--ideally, one accessible to everyone. The downside is that, as we've discovered, when people think that they're anonymous, they do terrible things. I think I'm OK with that trade-off: people will do terrible things, anyway.

The novel "The Quantum Thief" suggests a world where revealing yourself is something under the control of the individual. Even when walking through the world, people decide how much to reveal about themselves and to whom. Perhaps that's a good way to go.

Reading or read:

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