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Esther Dyson Grudgingly Defends Internet Anonymity 516

An anonymous reader writes "In an interview, Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, describes anonymity on the Internet as similar to abortion: a bad practice that people should still have rights to. Calling anonymity one of the greatest disappointments of the Internet's evolution, Dyson said: 'I'm pro choice, but I think abortion is an unfortunate thing. I think the same thing about anonymity: Everybody should have the right to it, but it's not something one wants to encourage.'"
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Esther Dyson Grudgingly Defends Internet Anonymity

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  • Why Not? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zach297 ( 1426339 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:24PM (#26082527)
    Why not encourage anonymity? It doesn't affect anyone so why not encourage it?
  • Is she related to... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:25PM (#26082545)

    Is she related to Freeman Dyson, (inventor of the Dyson Sphere)

  • I agree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:31PM (#26082657) Homepage Journal
    I don't allow ACs on my own blog [technocrat.net]. And perhaps that is part of the reason that the signal/noise ratio is much better than here. There are still "handles", and in the end the only thing I have to identify most subscribers is an email (which can itself be anonymous). But even that much reduction in anonymity seems to prompt people to behave better.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:33PM (#26082703)

    Yes. I don't consider abortion unfortunate and have absolutely no problems with it.

    Posting AC to spare myself the deluge of hate speech and flames.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:39PM (#26082797) Homepage

    Broadband is not a technology issue, it's really a financial issue. How should it be funded? Should it be subsidized? I tend to think not. Broadband is a miraculous technology, and it ought to be able to pay its own way. We need competition; we also need attractive enough propositions [in which] companies will invest.

    Broadband CAN pay for itself... and companies do spend money on infrastructure. The problem is that they won't put broadband everywhere. They only put it in places where they believe there will be a high rate of return on investment. "Cherry picking" leaving every place else without anything more than dialup which is barely acceptable for email. If the nation is to move forward and have broadband everywhere, companies will NEVER do it of their own volition. They have to be required to do so by government mandate. This is what utilities commissions are for. They just don't often include requirements for broadband... yet. And they should.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:42PM (#26082829)

    I've been there from before the always-on net. Back from modem-to-modem days. I think what made the internet what it is, was the wild-west aspect. Anyone can stake a claim and work it the way they wanted, with no one to tell you "no."

    I decided never to get upset by words. And that includes spam, which is not really that hard to deal with on the client end despite the whining and gnashing.

    Now we got the masses, and they want us coloring between the lines and following the rules and not offending our sensibilities and they will suburbanize our net and kill it.

    The fact the anonymity has to be defended at all, let alone grudgingly, means the end is near for the frontier. And that is what made the net special.

  • by WorkingDead ( 1393377 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:45PM (#26082871)
    Every [employer] should have the right to [know what you did last weekend], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    Every [government] should have the right to [know your personal beliefs on every issue you have ever cared to discus], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    Every [corporation] should have the right to [research your life to be used for directed marketing], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    Every [insurance company] should have the right to [your medical history], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    I don't think many people like the symptoms, but maybe we should stay focused on the actual problem.
  • by jav1231 ( 539129 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:53PM (#26082997)
    Wanna stop abortions of convenience? Give the father a right of writ of abortion. Give him the same ability under the law and that shit will stop tomorrow. "You're honor, I can understand my ex-girlfriend wanting to have my baby and I wish her well but I'm not at a point in my life where kids are plausible. I wish to invoke my right to abort my rights and responsibilities to this child. You know, the same option she not only has under abortion law but also adoption."
  • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:58PM (#26083087) Homepage
    The democratic voting process is typically conducted by anonymous poll. In this context, we recognize the crucial importance of anonymity in allowing all citizens to have an equal voice in decisions of common interest without fear of reprisal.

    For decades I have actively promoted the usefulness of strong identity to secure many conceivable uses of the Internet. But voting is one example where both identity and privacy have to be maintained. I don't consider that a "bad practice" but an essential capability.
  • by FromTheAir ( 938543 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:04PM (#26083189) Homepage
    Anonymity Protects Those That Tell the truth from Persecution
  • by nsayer ( 86181 ) * <nsayer.kfu@com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:06PM (#26083231) Homepage

    but your arm is alive and removing ('aborting') it is no moral problem and I feel the same way about an unthinking fetus

    You would have made a better argument with "unthinking embryo."

    "Fetus" is a term that is applicable from about the 11th week of pregnancy all the way to childbirth. Is a 1 day pre-term baby an "unthinking fetuses?"

  • by silanea ( 1241518 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:07PM (#26083269)

    ...I only care what you say.

    Why does it make a difference whether the author of a statement reveals their identity? It doesn't make their statement any truer or falser, any more or less relevant, any better or worse presented.

    And frankly, if the poster above me had signed their contribution with their full name, address, phone number, finger print and bust size/penis length I still wouldn't have a clue who the hell they are. Identity on the Internet doesn't mean shit.

  • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:09PM (#26083295)

    So may people incorrectly think that the powerful deserve to be defended from the powerless, completely losing sight of the fact that it is unnecessary since the powerless are incapable of attacking the powerful. These well meaning people are merely reinforcing the inequity. With anonymity the person in your example at least has the option of making their comment. Without anonymity the powerless person loses the power to make the comment, even it it is true, because it they do they will have to defend themselves against the powerful.

    Hint: The vast majority of attacks on anonymity that you hear come from powerful people. This is because the powerless generally do not have a voice. Powerful people have a vested interest in maintaining their power.

    The problem is not anonymity. The problem is that people need to learn to think critically and evaluate everything that is said to them. That way they can spot BS, whether it comes from an anonymous source or not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:10PM (#26083315)
    I've known a few people who had an abortion, almost all of them thought of it as sad but necessary; one was a crazy cunt who was actually proud of it in a horrible way; another was an asshole who thought of purely as "the girl's problem" and didn't even want to be involved. So there are people out there who are pro-abortion, but they are rare in my experience.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:10PM (#26083317) Homepage Journal

    Just for the record, I think mother's have a right to kill their babies. Infanticide is an ancient right of mothers and the modern obsession with interfering with parental duties is offensive.

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:20PM (#26083463)

    Abortion, if you're not killing a person (tricky thing to define, I admit, but your arm is alive and removing ('aborting') it is no moral problem and I feel the same way about an unthinking fetus.

    You yourself admit its tricky to define.

    Most pro-lifers think an unthinking fetus IS a person, so for them it IS a moral problem.

    And they aren't "wrong" for thinking that. Its a perfectly rational position. After all, your suggestion that simple self-awareness is required before you can be considered a person raises questions about certain classes of mental handicap, people in comas, brain damage, etc... these are a people that are not self aware. And a fetus actually has a very good chance of achieving self-awareness. Like you said, 'person' is tricky to define. So if someone believes the definition includes an unborn fetus, I can see the argument is reasonable, whether I agree with it or not.

    Further, your arm analogy has multiple flaws. An arm is not, was not, and will never be an independent person. A developing fetus has its own unique DNA, and is steadily sliding along a continuum towards being an independent person. I don't see a logical error being committed by arguing that a living organism with its own DNA that is actually developing into a fully 'normal person' should be protected more than a limb.

    And it certainly seems reasonable that it shouldn't be protected LESS than your limbs?

    And that's where it gets interesting... you can't just go in and get your arm lopped off because you feel like it. And its indisputably 'just' a part of you. Yet it would be pretty challenging to find a doctor willing to amputate your arm without a medical necessity. A fetus is arguably a person, and at the very least developing into a person. In fact, where I live at least, it would probably be HARDER to get a healthy arm amputated than to arrange for the abortion of a healthy fetus.

    Hell, I'm pro-choice and that even seems out of whack to me.

  • by freemywrld ( 821105 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:47PM (#26083883) Homepage

    Your suggestion doesn't make any sense and has nothing at all to do with abortion and entirely to do with adoption and custody rights.

    Men already have this right (as do women). An old roommate of mine got his girlfriend pregnant. When they split up he signed away his rights. He will never owe child support and she can never come after it in exchange for him having no rights or claims on the child. Lone mothers who give their children up for adoption also sign away their rights, such as the case of my younger (adopted) brother.

  • Re:Why Not? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:59PM (#26084051)

    It's like the original Forum of Greek polises (polisi? poli?)- no matter how crazy your ideas you can always find someone with whom to discuss them, and it made Greece better for it.

    No, it's not. Not even a bit. The fora of the poleis (ha!) were public. As in, face to face. If you spouted off nonsense and got smacked down in debate, everybody knew you were the one who spouted off nonsense. You either learned how to defend your ideas and prove they weren't nonsense, or you gained a reputation as a poor speaker or an idiot. Anonymity accompanied the ascendancy of written word, and it's one of the reasons that Plato's Socrates favored spoken dialogue over written treatises.

    It's not about attention and adoration, it's about accountability, Brian Gordon.

    Which is not to say that your points about anonymity providing necessary safety for certain activities aren't correct, but your analogy and your assumptions about ego are just flat-out wrong.

    [Irony, maybe? I haven't got my password on this machine, so I'm posting as Anonymous Coward. But I'm IWood. Got that? IWood wrote this. It was me.]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:05PM (#26084149)

    I also know a few people who have had an abortion. Not one of them felt good about it afterwards. In fact, every single one almost immediately got pregnant again and had a kid (whether they were single or not). I guess they felt like they had to make up for it or something.

    Whatever hard spot you're in, abortion doesn't seem to make anything better and actually seems to screw up your life afterwards.

    I am pro-choice though, it's not my place to decide how painful you want to make your life.

  • by blhack ( 921171 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:29PM (#26084445)

    There are two ages which most pro choice people would argue

    Yes, I understand. I'm arguing the basis of those arguments. Both of them are trying to establish when life begins.

    The first one is pretty basic. Brain Function/Capacity for pain = life.
    The second equally so. The fetus can not survive without the mother, and is therefore not a life, simply a part of the mother.

    My point is that both of those arguments can be expanded beyond just fetuses.
    Lets look at the first one. Brain activity. This, to me, isn't a good test for life. Ants have brain activity, AND the ability to communicate. They form advanced civilizations. They fit almost every test that I've heard for sentience. They have the capacity for self destruction, they're motivated, etc. etc. etc.

    Followers of the life-criteria that you suggested should advocate for the protection of Ants, and fish, bees, and just about every other animal on the planet, but they don't! Why? If that is the criteria for life, and life is something that should be protected, then why not protect anything that fits the model?
    This is where the first argument breaks down.
    It establishes that there is something different about humans. What is that difference?
    AH! The CAPACITY for a human existence! We can kill ants because they will never become anything more than ants. Human fetuses, however, almost always will.
    The very argument that aborting a fetus before "brain activity" is present invalidates itself.

  • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:34PM (#26084507)
    Judgment is human nature. People who keep secrets for fear of judgment are trying to lie to themselves. There's nothing I can do about that.

    However, people who keep secrets for fear of sanctions or penalties would not keep them if we held a more reasonable view on punishment.

    In my opinion a punitive legal system does not make sense. If someone does not know they are doing wrong, you only have to tell them and they will stop. If someone does know, but does it anyway, punishing them is not likely to stop them. Please do not talk to me about children or animals, or the mentally infirm. I am talking about rational, thinking adults.

    We should only put people in jail if we have judged that they are a credible threat to society and the costs of imprisoning them are worth the benefits of removing them from general society. This process should not be considered remedial to the offender. That means that there should be no set length for prison terms. Criminals should be held there until they are no longer a treat to society. Criminals should not be given warnings, or threats, those things only encourage people to hide their actions and embitter them against us.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @09:20PM (#26084949)

    He's saying that if women couldn't get a free ride off men by sprouting out fuck trophies, then they'd be more careful about getting their shit knocked up. They'd get on the pill, insist on condoms, tie their tubes, or whatever.

    Right now women really have no motivation to keep from getting pregnant with anyone but the poorest of guys. It's a free lunch for them.

    Actually, even with the poorest of guys, the women can usually get a government check. Why do you think poor, single women keep having kids?

    And let me be clear, the free ride off men is going to be an option for them either way -- the "get pregnant" way allows her to fuck him once and then get a free ride. She could actually marry him and own half of his shit, but the she'd have to fuck him once a month, minimum. Probably blow him every now and then, too. It's just too much work. So much easier to just pawn the brat off on daycare and public schools.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @09:21PM (#26084971)

    Philip K. Dick had an interesting story on abortion- they had moved the abortion limit to the age at which you can perform basic Algebra, since that is what separates humans from animals (even some animals can 'count'). Interesting read.

    But our laws in the US are really bad regarding the subject.

    First of all, to have a discussion we need to not include cases of incest, rape, major deformity, or where life of the mother is at risk.. those are a whole different discussion than abortion itself.

    So in the remaining (VAST majority) of cases, we know this much to be true:

    Two people willingly risked pregnancy by having sex. Don't try using the "Condom broke" or "Pills didn't work" excuses, there is always a risk & you both knew it.

    Which leaves us with a knocked up chick, and a guy.
    The woman has these options:
    - Abortion
    - Adoption
    - Parenthood.

    The man has these options:


    That's right, the man has no options. Those choices are all made by the woman. This is bullshit. If she wants to adopt & I want to keep, the kids gets adopted. If she wants to keep, and I want to adopt, she gets to keep, and I HAVE to keep. This is major bullshit. Men should have the option to not be legally responsible for the child, that should be OUR "right to choose".
    Otherwise, it's only fair to side with the Bible thumpers and say "you both made your choice when you had sex, deal with it.

    Posting Anon so nobody throws fake blood all over my car or burns down my house.

  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @10:04PM (#26085361) Journal
    If we had a way to create a one login to a single individual, stuff like making a new style of government could take place. Instead of a congress to represent everyone, everyone who cared could vote on every bill up. You could even have people be jurors in every case out there. The old time where everyone could not be in the same place has passed, we are living in a new time where everyone can gather in the same place. Now I'm not saying this is a superior style of government and trials, I'm just saying it is possible.
  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @10:09PM (#26085393) Homepage

    The problem is that Ted Kaczynski could be found by tracing down his movements and actions. There is no correspondence to the Internet.

    If you don't brag and use reasonable caution it is possible to connect actions with a high probability to a computer. It is not certain and it never can be. It does not connect with a person at all, and cannot ever. Unless the person is stupid, you can't use any tracing information available on the Internet to connect to a person. Period.

    What this means is that any crime on the Internet is possible and the perpetrator can never be brought to justice. Unless they reveal themselves in other ways. Unlike other crimes, criminals do not leave DNA, they do not leave fibers, hairs, or any other physical evidence. There is at best some circumstantial evidence that points to a computer - maybe. If the person uses a proxy or other tools even that is not possible.

    So that pretty much leaves the idea of investigation out in the cold. There is nothing to investigate. Nobody to catch. Ever wonder why nobody ever gets prosecuted for distributing viruses or creating botnets unless they are bragging about it? RIchard Smith, the author of the I Love You worm got prosecuted because he pretty much signed his name. When was the last botnet herder convicted of anything? It will never happen.

  • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @10:12PM (#26085423) Journal

    Why not just create tools that take the annoyance out of trolls, anonymous or otherwise?

    I've been "browsing at -1" since Slashdot invented moderation, and the system of denying attention to trolls *works*. The amout of trolling, and especially crapflooding, on Slashdot has fallen *dramatically* over the last 5 years or so. When's the last time anyone saw a GNAA post? We get less than one racist or gay porn copypasta post per story these days, and clever goatse.cx links almost non-existant.

    There was no change in the difficulty of being anonymous here. There was little change in the maturity of Slashdot readers (arguably the average was less mature while the trolling was falling fastest, in the last year before Digg), yet trolling and crapflooding has almost vanished, compared to the bad years.

    I don't think we need to discourage anonymity. We need to vigorously discourage trolling, and ignoring the trolls is the best way. Technology can help with that.

  • by ion.simon.c ( 1183967 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @11:04PM (#26085855)

    Anyone who would label nine months of pregnancy followed by an expensive delivery a "free ride" for the woman has clearly never lived with a pregnant woman. Pregnancy puts a woman's body through the wringer and damn near incapacitates them, and at the end you either pay a ton of money for surgical removal of the baby or suffer in agony as its rips through a too-small opening to get out.

    Why do economically advantaged women have more than two children?

  • Re:Why Not? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:07AM (#26086289)

    The framers of the constitution?? Secret ballots are not mentioned in the US constitution. Secret ballots were adopted in the US in the mid 19th century, based on the system in use in some of the Australian colonies at the time (Australia as a country did not yet exist.)

    For the record, secret balloting is not mentioned in the Australian constitution either. I'm not aware of any constitution that does - although I'm no expert.

  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @01:25AM (#26086717) Journal

    Not only that, but if she wants the child, why should the father have the right to stop her from being a single mother?

    Devil's Advocate: The same rights that a man has to stop an abortion and raise the child himself (i.e. none).

    The rest I can agree with, though we're talking hypotheticals, so I thought I'd have fun with it.

    What he said is that since women have the right to say, "I don't want the responsibility of a baby right now, let me get an abortion" the man should be able to say, "I don't want the responsibility of a baby right now, let me give up my rights and responsibilities as a father: she can't come to me for child support, and I can't request visitation rights or any such other thing."

    Frankly, I think that's pretty fair.

    I agree, perfectly. I wish the courts and legislatures would agree to that. It would force a whole lot of folks to start thinking ahead (in many cases - for once).

    There's no justification for a woman to force any responsibilities onto the father of an unplanned pregnancy: she had the ability to prevent the pregnancy all on her own, but was just as irresponsible as the father.

    Agreed. Perfectly.

    What I would like is a right for the father to prevent an abortion. If I got a woman pregnant and she doesn't want the baby, I don't think I have any legal recourse to stop her from having an abortion (and I don't really have any experience on the subject, so I could be wrong).

    Nope - I'm thinking that you don't. She can quickly claim that you're putting her life at risk by forcing a carry-to-term, ending any hope of that happening... Cool idea, and eminently fair, at least to the child.

    Basically, I'm pro-choice, but would never want a woman pregnant with my child to make that choice.

    Thing is, you have no choice in that matter. Only she does. If you did, then, as GGGP (?) said, women would think ahead (we already know that most men can't), birth control usage would rise big-time, and abortions for convenience would probably become as rare as Lottery odds...


  • Re:Why Not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arminw ( 717974 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:56PM (#26092113)

    ...And a computer without hardware is what...

    That is why Apple is the ONLY company that makes both hardware and software, together, as a complete SYSTEM, not some cobbled together pile of random parts from who knows how many places, That you are using. The so called "computer" you are using evolved from random hardware and software parts. Macs are intelligently designed by some real engineers. People that recognize this, are willing to pay a little extra. That is why Apple makes good profits, while the others are barely squeaking by making rock-bottom equipment.

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!