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How the Web's Relationship With Anonymity Has Changed 172

A story at the NY Times explores how the internet's involvement with anonymity has evolved over the past two decades. Quoting: "Not too long ago, theorists fretted that the Internet was a place where anonymity thrived. Now, it seems, it is the place where anonymity dies. ... The collective intelligence of the Internet’s two billion users, and the digital fingerprints that so many users leave on Web sites, combine to make it more and more likely that every embarrassing video, every intimate photo, and every indelicate e-mail is attributed to its source, whether that source wants it to be or not. This intelligence makes the public sphere more public than ever before and sometimes forces personal lives into public view. ... This erosion of anonymity is a product of pervasive social media services, cheap cellphone cameras, free photo and video Web hosts, and perhaps most important of all, a change in people’s views about what ought to be public and what ought to be private."
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How the Web's Relationship With Anonymity Has Changed

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  • A challenge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aussie_a ( 778472 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @08:16AM (#36526488) Journal

    I would challenge people to find out where I live or work. I think anonymity is still alive for those who care.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Australia ;)

    • I would challenge people to find out where I live or work. I think anonymity is still alive for those who care.

      I doubt I could identify you, but I am sure that many Governments have the capability to get the IP address you posted from and map that to a name.

    • by alci63 ( 1856480 )
      First elements : you live in Australia and work in IT. You have done a lot of web development. I'll come back later with more...
      • And a gay rights activist, don't forget that.
      • You better, because I don't think Australian Web Developers are a small enough subset of people to scare him yet.

        (Unlike gp I know I'm easy to trace, so getting my info wouldn't impress me much)

        • by alci63 ( 1856480 )
          Well. He (I'm betting he's a "he") also has a very bright sister. She's now doing a Phd in psychology. More to come, stay tuned...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Michael Smith | 61 386 304 560
      Team Leader, Case and Tools | 61 416 062 898
      Thales Australia TCC | S 37.82329
      Melbourne, Victoria | E 144.95426

    • You're David Davidson unless I'm mistaken.
    • by gx5000 ( 863863 )
      Those who know how still do but are considered anti-social and anti-technological, which is ridiculous. The things people post of themselves online is incredible.
    • Is this you?: [] Found it via two google searches: aussie_a turned up a twitter account, searching the name given on that account gave the linked in page.
      • Not me. Although to be truly anonymous I should refuse to answer so you give up looking once you think you've found me.

    • Are you possibly Louis Aldum from around Perth?
    • Re:A challenge (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @09:10AM (#36527044) Homepage Journal

      I would challenge people to find out where I live or work. I think anonymity is still alive for those who care.

      This. Anonymity is dying because corporations want it to die, and slowly but surely they are getting their way. Anonymity isn't good for the bottom line, and we are being teased and enticed and in some cases (facebook) dragged kicking and screaming out of anonymity. For those that still want to use the Internet anonymously, there aren't too many hurdles to doing so. *IF* you care. Anonymity just isn't the default any more (so few people choose it), but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

      • Is it only because corps want it to die and not because we're hitting the tipping point where enough people are behaving irresponsibly and causing enough trouble for everyone else that they're willing to forgo some anonymity to get things back to a workable state? (in before Ben Franklin quote).

        Resource abused, community responds, film at 11.

        • Is it only because corps want it to die and not because we're hitting the tipping point where enough people are behaving irresponsibly and causing enough trouble for everyone else that they're willing to forgo some anonymity to get things back to a workable state? (in before Ben Franklin quote).

          Resource abused, community responds, film at 11.

          I'd chalk it up to a few things:

          1. It's becoming far easier to connect all the dots of a person's life, with trivial effort. Worse, for convenience we encourage people to make those connections for us - not just "who's your friend on Facebook", but "sign in with your Facebook/Twitter/Google account".
          2. That sort of marketing data is gold to corporations, so they have zero interest in protecting your privacy any more than they absolutely have to. Why does the grocery store give you a discount or air miles with t
    • Re:A challenge (Score:4, Insightful)

      by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @09:19AM (#36527168) Journal

      Anonymity is alive in certain scenarios. I hope you realize the internet is not designed for anonymity and basically not part of that, right?

      It's designed for public sharing. You can secure things, but to think anything is anonymous online is just sheer idiocy. Whether someone cares to look at your stuff, depends on a: if you want them to and b: if it's interesting.

      • by gknoy ( 899301 )

        It used to be effectively anonymous for most dealings (aside from subpoenas), but now that you (or your friends) post images and videos on facebook or youtube, there's a large number of people who can say, "hey wait do I know that guy?". The "many eyes" principle applies to exposing identities as well as software errors, I guess.

        • Well yes, too many eyes is accurate.

          However, the underlying shit behind the internet really has never been designed for anonymity, period. IPv6 isn't about anonymity, and IPv4 simply never really made it easy to identify stuff. Not to say that you're identifying a person - at best, you're identifying a router or a computer.

          Google said it best themselves: if you want something private, keep it off the internet. Just like anything else public: if you want it to be private, don't do it in public.

    • by AJH16 ( 940784 )

      I would challenge people to figure out who I am, but seeing as I have the URL of my name and have my screen name that I use everywhere on the internet plastered all over it and I'm more than half the top page of Google results for the name I use, my real name, and my screen name, I'm really kinda thinking it wouldn't be too hard... I guess my view has always been that if I'm willing to say it on the internet, then I'm willing to say it in public and I could really care less if people know who I am. If I r

    • RL anonymity is dead. But it never existed in the first place.

      Online anonymity is still alive and kicking, thank you very much. That Anonymous even exists is testament to the ubiquity and the power of internet anonymity.

      Most people don't differenciate their internet presence from their real life. They bring it online via social networking, e-commerce, e-banking, and other services that replace what would otherwise be done in RL. This is why anonymity appears to be dying--because it never really existed for

  • That someone online only masking their IP address is "anonymous" and yet they use their real name.. or don't even need to hide it. And yet my Grandma doesn't have a computer or IP address and isn't "anonymous" but just keeps to herself. If someone is online and keeps to themselves but as well doesn't go out much.. they are anonymous?? That's a little stupid.. I don't mean the people that cause problems.. authors had pennames before that.
  • by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @08:26AM (#36526576) Journal
    It's society. Banks stopped accepting money unless they can trace where it comes from. Even shops want to follow you around. Surveillance cameras pop up in societies that never knew them. Your ISP has to spy on you as well. Governments pass laws to make companies spy on people if those companies do not do so voluntarily.
    • I wonder how long you will still be able to legally buy a second-hand computer for cash. It seems that if you want to be anonymous online you have to start at the bottom of the stack.
  • by ron_ivi ( 607351 ) <sdotno@cheapcomp ... minus poet> on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @08:37AM (#36526684)

    Wonder what would happen if one published an anonymous pamphlet like they used to do in the past ( [] ).

  • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @08:40AM (#36526734)
    20 years ago, people happily published their names, addresses and phone numbers in public directories. In those days, anyone could be found by anyone. You'd only need to visit about 2 Sarah Connors before you found the one you wanted.
    • 20 years ago, people who abused the information in those directories (telemarketers, stalkers, T-100s) where relatively rare. As the abuse increased, so did the desire for anonymity. And even back then, there were some who were willing to pay extra to be "unlisted".

      • by gknoy ( 899301 )

        Yep. Once the directories were put online, and other data aggregated in a manner that was easily searchable, the degree of privacy was less. I couldn't easily search for Bob Schmidt in Some Town, Iowa, unless I lived close enough to leaf through a phone book. A determined attacker (stalker?) could still find someone by hiring a private investigator, or looking at publically available information, but that was a lot harder than firing up Google (or LinkedIn) and looking for their resume, or looking at metad

  • Whoever believed otherwise was an ignorant fool.

    • I'd argue the opposite. Internet use is always inherently anonymous. Yes anyone can trace your IP to a physical location if they are persistent enough, but nothing on the internet ever really proves who was using the computer or internet connection at any given time. Maybe webcams go some of the way to providing proof, but of course video can be faked. You need independent evidence not related to the internet to remove anonymity.
      • by alexmin ( 938677 )

        "...nothing on the internet ever really proves who was using the computer or internet connection..." - tell it to the squad busting your door. Or lawyers. Or thugs.

  • by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @08:50AM (#36526830) Journal

    Whatever you post online has to be assumed to be there forever. If you at some point posts embarrassing photos with one account, at another time posts something linking that account to another account, then somewhere online posts something linking the second account to your real identity... guess what? Your real identity is now easily linked to those pictures you posted while drunk all those years ago. It's not going to look good on your resume, is it?

    It don't even have to be yourself posting something you want to keep hidden... most of us have thoughtless "friends" who uploads stuff that can be linked to you. A former coworker got into lots of trouble because another coworker brought a camera to an office party - stuff that you find funny after ten beers is a lot less funny when you sober up and realize that your boss have found the pictures while browsing Facebook.

    The only way to keep your anonymity is to be careful and aware of what you do online at all time, and be paranoid to boot. Or possible be so uninteresting that no one will bother to dig too much to get your information.

  • However, so long as people didn't abuse it, we were willing to accommodate it. People with unpopular political views, whistleblowers, people hiding from an abusive ex-significant other, etc. Perfectly good reasons to hide your identity, and we were happy to let you partake in civil participation with the internet community, even though we have no idea who you actually are. We're still willing.

    However, those people don't comprise Anonymous as we currently know it. A small, but loud segment of the interne

    • I think they were quite smart picking some easy targets like the entertainment industry before scaling up to, say, the chinese government. Getting a chance to flex their tools while also attracting attention from people who might be able to compromise their anonymity. Then attacking some friendly governments to give those governments enough incentive to pile in and point out where the anonymity gaps are. Anonymity should emerge from all this much stronger and more capable. As for draconian laws, lets ho
  • Anonymity only has it's appeal (to me) because the information that is available to groups/people (the information that identifies who I really am, not just what I tell them) is wholly incomplete. If I could deal with internet interfaces as I dealt with friends or coworkers i.e. have an established, complete record of history, I would be fine with the amount of information I present. Since I am a curious person, and that search query for the anarchists cookbook five years ago was just to find out what the h
  • Since you pay your internet bill to your ISP and they are forced to log everything, they can track you down really quick. If you on the otherside want some privacy you can make it really hard for them to find you by using proxyservers, thor network, etc. Always Sign messages with an alternate identity when protected and never use this identity if unprotected. If talking about private communication use signatures and encryption. And then there is a factor luck: how extremely carefull your are, your friends m
    • by nikunj ( 40577 )

      You do mean 'tor' and are not referring to _the_ god-access heavenly network right :-)

    • But in the long run, if they want to track you nomatter what, they can, and they will find you.
      Apocryphal story, supposed to be true but I have no confirmation. A LOOONG time ago (before ARPANET became Internet), a friend of a friend was recruited out of college by NSA (whose existence at that time was either still classified or had only recently been declassified IIRC - I don't recall, but it was about that time). So he went to this interview in a building with no name on it. His escort came to get him from reception, and clamped a handcuff on his wrist - the other was on the escort. He was told that if he got more than a few feet from the escort, he might be shot. To exemplify that fact, there were armed guards in front of many doors.

      My friend-of-friend was totally spooked, and the interview did not go well from his POV. So when he left, instead of flying back to New York, on the spur of the moment, he hopped a different flight to visit his girlfriend in Chicago. The next morning, there was a knock on his girlfriend's door. At the door was an NSA rep, saying "We would like to offer you a position." Astonished, my friend-of-friend asked him how he found him. The rep replied, "Don't be silly, this is the NSA!"

      And that was back when finding you was relatively hard, compared to now.

  • theorists fretted that the Internet was a place where anonymity thrived

    Wait, why would they fret over that? Why is it presumed to be a bad thing?
    Me thinks the whole article starts off from a really biased angle full of misconceptions.

  • Just enough to thwart search engines. Any competent hacker or court order could break it.

    Still never post anything you dont your mother to see -Tony Weiner.
  • I just heard rant from a founder of about web filtering caused by personalization. He suggests it is practically censorship when portals tell you what they think will elicit a commercial response rather than a totally objective search result. They dont really need your name and tax-id number to "know" you, just your surfing history.
  • to police states - with an exception for the security organs and death squads, of course.
  • Funny, but I saw where my local PBS station is broadcasting even now a documentary about Louis Brandeis. I set up to record it after reading about him in the wikipedia. It seems he was instrumental in creating the notion of a right to privacy. I haven't seen the documentary yet, but it might be interesting to learn about his take on the subject. He was a brilliant man it seems, with the highest grades of anybody to graduate from Harvard, and he graduated at age 20 according to the wikipedia, so some of

  • I love anonymity. I've seen two infuriating breaches. First, I just set up a Facebook account and never realized that sites with Facebook login support automagically log you in for comments. So, now an account I finally broke down and set up to allow old friends to find me is another anti-anonymity agent.

    Second, Google "duped" me into associating my gmail address with my YouTube account. They then started scraping my email account for addresses and actually dumping videos from these people into my YouTu

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly