Imagining the Internet (7): anonymity

I’m generally very optimistic and boosterish about the Internet. But I’m pessimistic about some features of online life – and privacy is near the top of the list. I see anonymity as one of several privacy safeguards that, on our way to 2020, will gradually fold under irresistible pressure from vested interests.

Q.7 – Will online anonymity still be prevalent?

A. By 2020, the identification ID systems used online are tighter and more formal – fingerprints or DNA-scans or retina scans. The use of these systems is the gateway to most of the internet-enabled activity that users are able to perform such as shopping, communicating, creating content, and browsing. Anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed.

B. By 2020, internet users can do a lot of normal online activities anonymously even though the identification systems used on the internet have been applied to a wider range of activities. It is still relatively easy for internet users to create content, communicate, and browse without publicly disclosing who they are.

[my answer: A]

Please explain your choice and share your view about the future of anonymous activity online by the year 2020.

[elaboration]

“The battle over online anonymity is much like the tug-of-war between large copyright holders and online “pirates.” It’ll never end. Several kinds of people feel they have too much at stake to let other people hide online: besides movie studios and record labels, that would include law enforcement officials, national security agencies and marketers of all descriptions. At least some of the time, bad behavior (or suspected bad behavior) will trump any rationale for hiding identities. On the flip side, many of us actually want to be tracked down online so we can give up enough privacy to be sold things that are just right for us. Digital technologies keep this game in motion. As soon as one side builds a better mousetrap, the other side hacks it and the cycle starts again.

“Ironically, I think anonymity will remain just as endangered in free-market democracies as in authoritarian regimes. In countries like Canada and the United States, we take it for granted that the State will not attempt to harm us or curtail our freedoms, online or offline – to say nothing of knee-jerk reactions to widely feared activities like terrorism. As for the marketers, they have a double advantage in using or circumventing ID systems. First, free-market economies are very forgiving of intrusive behaviors, if they can be construed as promoting growth or innovation. Second, and most importantly, the right to anonymity is a privilege of sophisticated and attentive citizens. I suspect that millions of mainstream onliners are too baffled or careless to remain vigilant about their privacy. Simply keeping up with the ever-changing rules on social networking platforms like Facebook is a task most people appear unwilling or unable to take on.”