Monday, January 16, 2006

Anonymity or Privacy on the Internet?

Last week, Bruce Schneier wrote a great comment on Anonymity, how it won’t kill the Internet, and that it has to do with accountability mostly.

Logically, if identification is impossible, then there cannot be adequate accountability. Though, alternative methods based on the collective trust exist, and are as anonymous, as necessary. Spoofed identities, perhaps even hijacked ones should also be taken into consideration. But how important is Anonymity today? What is Anonymity and Privacy anyway? When is the first desired to preserve the second? How blur is the line in between? I think Anonymity is so much broader than it is originally perceived.

I’ve once mentioned the possibilities of IP cloaking for competitive intelligence/disinformation. On the other hand, for me today’s concept of anonymity has three dimensions :

- The individuals trying to achieve anonymity with the idea to express their right of free speech, and access censored information
A chinese citizen is the first thing that comes to my mind, though many others are having the same problems when trying to access information or express their right of free speech, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Iran, Singapore, Burma, and Tunisia.

- Those trying to avoid accountability for certain actions, in one way or another has for instance featured a list of P2P applications that improve anonymity to a certain extend. In this case, anonymity is desired in order to cover up certain actions. The use of proxy servers to try to hide originating host should also be mentioned as a possibility.

- Those with an established pseudo-anonymity, netizens for instance

I think pseudo-anonymity is important in today’s society, it’s utopian worlds(online gaming worlds etc.), express freedom and promote creativity to a certain extend. The entire trust and accountability model is actually entrusted on the service, for instance, Ebay as mentioned in the original article. You trust that Ebay’s practices going beyond this pseudo-anonymity would achieve accountability in case it’s necessary.

What others think on privacy, and why is anonymity hard?

There’s no Privacy, get over it” Sun's CEO Scott McNealy, back in 1999

John Young, on privacy, data aggregation, data mining, terrorism fears and our constantly digitized lifes :

Privacy should be a right of citizens worldwide, in particular the right to keep government and business from gaining access to private information and personal data. The argument that government needs to violate privacy in order to assure security is a lie. The business of gathering private information by corporations and then selling that to government and other businesses is a great threat to civil liberties. Much of this technology was developed for intelligence and military uses but has since been expanded to include civil society.

Dan Farmer and Charles C.Mann – Surveillance Nation
Low-priced surveillance technologies will help millions of consumers protect their property, plan their commutes, and monitor their families. But as these informal intelligence-gathering networks overlap and invade our privacy, that very could evaporate.”