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Thinking About Anonymity

thinking about anonymity

I have been thinking about anonymity, which we used to assume by default. Now, it’s exactly the opposite. We have to work hard to be anonymous, if we even can.

Recently, I have been thinking about anonymity. On the internet, we can try to be an anonymous reader or an anonymous writer. In some cases, our desire for anonymity relates to our desire for privacy. But quite often, we just use it to avoid accountability.

If I choose to be an anonymous reader, I can use an anonymizing service, such as Private Internet Access, to hide my location and IP address from a web site or download service. In combination, I can put my browser into incognito mode to escape cookie tracking. Most people who do this in western countries use this approach to avoid accountability for illegal (or at least questionable) downloading or streaming.

But in many countries, anonymity may be quite important for your personal safety, particularly from a heavy handed government.

Similarly, in some parts of the world, being an anonymous writer may be the only way to exercise free speech on social media or even e-mail. On the other hand, most of the spam and viruses you receive come from an anonymous writer. Indeed much of the crap on social media comes from either anonymous writers or false identities.

So, perhaps the first thing we learn about anonymity being good or bad depends on your intentions, and where you live.

Thinking About Anonymity – A Complex Discussion

Typically, we conflate ideas like privacy and identity with anonymity. Anonymity is a process to sever the link between who we are and what we do.

So, what has changed, if anything, as we moved from real world to digital? Simply this. In the old days, anonymity was the default position. Generally, we all remained anonymous until someone took the time to identify us. On the other hand, in the digital world, our lack of anonymity has become the default position. Our activities are identifiable and collected unless we take the time to make ourselves anonymous.

What’s worse, for reasons of convenience and speed, we have overlaid a comprehensive digital system on top of our real world analog reality. As we walk down the street or through a shopping mall, our anonymity has evaporated through cross linked point of sale, surveillance and communication systems.

Is this just something we have to live with? Trouble is, our choice has disappeared.

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