Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On Anonymity

Simply stated, anonymity is the absence of identity. However, there are several variations of anonymity. A person may wish to be consistently identified by a certain pseudonym or 'Handle' and establish a reputation under it in some area, providing pseudo-anonymity. A person may wish to be completely untraceable for a single one-way message (a sort of 'Hit-and-run'). Or, a person may wish to be openly anonymous but carry on a conversation with others (with either known or anonymous identities) via an 'Anonymous return address'. A user may wish to appear as a 'Regular user' but actually be untraceable. Sometimes a user wishes to hide who he is sending mail to (in addition to the message itself). The anonymous item itself may be directed at individuals or groups. A user may wish to access some service and hide all signs of the association.

Anonymity is a powerful tool that can be beneficial or problematic depending on its use. Arguably absence of identification is important as the presence of it. It may be the case that many strong benefits from electronic anonymity will be discovered that were unforeseen and unpredicted, because true anonymity has been historically very difficult to establish. One can use anonymity to make personal statements to a colleague that would sabotage a relationship if stated openly (such as employer/employee scenarios). One can use it to pass information and evade any threat of direct retribution. For example, `whistleblowers' reporting on government abuses (economic, social, or political) can bring issues to light without fear of stigma or retaliation. Sensitive, personal, potentially damaging information is often posted to some USENET groups, a risky situation where anonymity allows conversations to be carried on completely independent of the identities of the participants. Some police departments run phone services that allow anonymous reporting of crimes; such uses would be straightforward on the network. Unfortunately, extortion and harassment become more insidious with true assurances of anonymity.

- 1993 L. Detweiler, Identity, Privacy and Anonymity on the Internet.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is heavy dudes and dudettes.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Another good example of how technology empowers the individual more than the group.

9:09 PM  

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