Anonymity and The Web

According to The Verge, Google has begun a new policy that will append the users real (Google+) name to their Play store. Users over at reddit have begun debating the issue and while there are voices on both sides the community appears to be overwhelmingly opposed to this new policy.

One user comments “Hey guys how about we use our real names on Reddit! Sound good? No? Well then protest shit like this because the camel’s nose is officially in the tent” and another follows up with “What a joke. Come on google“. Others are more supportive, even going so far as to advocate that the option to opt-out of this policy for youtube comments be removed and everyone forced to comment with their Google+ identity.

I think there is legitimate cause for debate on this issue. Part of the trouble is going to be that, as the first commenter I quoted makes clear, for some, any requirement to use ones true identity online feels to be just the beginning of new policies and eventually legislation requiring all online activity be paired with a real identity.  Judging by the determination of congress and now the UN to regulate and control the internet to a greater degree this is not an unfounded fear.

On the other hand, there could be some serious benefits to the use of real world identities for some online communities. For example, elsewhere on this blog I have briefly talked about my interest in online scientific communities for the purpose of discussion and collaboration. I really feel that the use of real world identities and credentials in this type of community would be a huge boon to its legitimacy and usefulness.  There are probably a hundred different ways in which the use of real world identities online would be a net positive to the communities that would consider implementing such policies. And really, I see no immediate problem with this becoming the norm for many different types of communities.

However.  I do very strongly believe that, in general, the anonymity of the web is one of its most important attributes. There should always be an anonymous component to the internet and legislation should be put in place to protect this.  Part of the problem with real identity systems is our persistent fundamental inability to secure the web. It is a game of cat and mouse that the hackers will always win.  The more important the community or use for the real world identity the larger the target it will be for people who want to break in and cause mischief. Because of this we must err on the side of caution when implementing these things.

I will expand on what I think would be the ideal system of real world identity and anonymity on the web in a future post.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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