September 10, 2011

Not for Sale: Privacy, Anonymity and Pseudonyms

Facebook set the standard for demanding that people use a real name (or at least a name that sounded real) on the web, just as Apple set the standard for taking people out of the web and into the Apple silo - which, in case you never paid attention, is not on the www - a standard that Facebook later copied.

Now Google wants people to use their real names, or at least one identity.  They want to hold people "sort of" accountable.  Crap!  They want to be able to mine and link your data in an ever richer manner, which, out here in the real world, would require use of a single name, not a real one ... not that people should be compelled to adhere to a single identity on the web, no matter how much that would suit the Google business plan.
As for Eric Schmidt's comments on people doing the right thing under their real name, he said: "If you bother to dive into research and the evidence, people have been saying dumb stuff and smart stuff both under their real name and under pseudonyms for a bloody long time on the internet. And Eric Scmidt, or whoever the CEO is now, Larry Page, knows that for sure. It's such a disingenuous statement.

"Google are gathering data because it's good for them to have that data. Not for any other reason. They've essentially dropped the 'do no evil' to 'do no deliberately obvious evil'."
Though Google might be leaning towards being more evil according to Collins, it appears to be open about admitting the additional reasons as to why they are collecting real names.
"So if we knew that it was a real person, then we could sort of hold them accountable, we could check them, we could give them things, we could you know bill them, you know we could have credit cards and so forth and so on, there are all sorts of reasons," Google's Eric Schmidt said at a recent gathering.
Google has no moral authority to hold web users accountable - for anything.  It is not the role of Google to impose moral standards, most especially not when their real reason (a legitimate business aspiration) is unsubtly tucked away in a dingy dark corner.  It's not just doing evil, it's doing stupid.

We're not that dumb guys. 

Death of anonymity online


  1. I joined a "community" which demanded the use of real names. I don't like that as I have a unique name. I have already had mail from people I do not know in other states when I've had letters published in newspapers.

    I use my real name in facebook, but only to be contactable by people who know me. There's way too much crap sent out via facebook and people who use it (survey and sign up emails and messages) so I have very little information on facebook, because my name is unique that's all I really need!

    Science Blogs has been taken over by National Geographic and they're telling all the scienceblog bloggers that they must use their real name. A few people think it is to make the communication and comment more transparent and "checkable", but I suspect it is so that NG can turn the science blog into its own model of what science they want out with the masses. I read this at one of the medical anti-anti-vaxers sites I link to on my blog.

  2. PS
    When a new owner took over the community blog and demanded I use my real name I decided that I was better off to be completely out of the blog.

  3. I'm still reeling from how Google -- when they sent their camera vehicles around the country to populate their Street View data -- actually data-mined people's unprotected wireless networks as they passed through.

    I.E., they had those vehicles pre-equipped to do that. This represents a level of premeditation that boggles the mind.

    Google is capable of anything. Google is evil.

    (He said, utilising a Google-provided 'social' networking service...)

  4. geoffff12:53 AM

    Ah yes. I understand entirely the unique blessings and curses of the unique name, kae. No one has ffff in their name. No one. You can't get more unique than that.

  5. Solomon12:01 PM

    My real name for what purpose? Here I was still treating Google like some uppity search engine that up-ended Altavista.

  6. I reckon a name with a triple fff would be cool.

  7. That would be a quadruple "f" Kae.

    Like you, Geoffff has multiple personas on the web ... just as we all have compartmentalized roles in our real world lives.

  8. Sol - an uppity search engine, suddenly feeling the urge to hold search engine users accountable ... which is pretty funny, really, especially when you consider that the majority of searches on the web, all over the world, are porn related.

    I'm hoping they'll get a grip and rejoin us when they pull themselves out of their own arse.

    Jacob - yes, that was a disturbing episode, made worse by there not being any obvious purpose to the malevolent act. What did they get from that data? What market use did it have?

    Kae - agree with your approach; any site demanding my "real" name, when I have no wish to give it, instantly loses my interest. Not going to happen.

    Privacy is not an old fashioned concept, nor is it a commodity to be bartered; it's more and more essential to be mindful and vigilant about our online presence. Throwing open one's kimono, believing their will be no repercussions, is only for the young and deeply stupid. And even they will learn, in time.

  9. geoffff1:37 PM

    I've got an idea kae may have been referring to a radio station

    Something on the air anyway

  10. geoffff1:40 PM

    "Here I was still treating Google like some uppity search engine that up-ended Altavista."

    You mean it isn't?

  11. geoffff2:55 PM

    "Throwing open one's kimono"


    I only dropped by for some light relief.

    I've been posting on the blog of British intellectual and nice man, Norman Lebrecht, Slipped Disc, about a recent incident at the Royal Albert Hall that caught my eye.

    Mr Lebrecht's blog is "the inside track on classical music and related cultures" so I kinda have to wing it a bit on the technical stuff. All the commenters, and as far as I can tell the entire readership are professional concert musicians. Not my usual gig but I'm having huge fun! These guys are great!

    I get to write a piece that I know will be read by the "Royal Albert Jerks" (not too strong do you think? ... oh well ... too late now) and the other musicians some of who are in the LSO and who put their name to an earlier letter to "The Independent" demanding the BBC cancel the ISO Prom.


    Don't worry... I'll be gentle ... snigger

    this is why blogging is fun and why I don't have my own blog.

    the point of all this is that I am posting in my own name which is the only name in the world that is less unique than "geoffff". Nobody is called "geoffff" Not even me.

    Posting in my own name startled the old folk when they heard about it especially when they heard what I was commenting on. But I sorted that problem long ago. I stopped telling them.

    Caz is absolutely right as usual. We have different personas depending on where we are and the right to call ourselves what we like in any particular place provided we are not lurking with intent.

    It's like subjected everybody to compulsory e-tattoos.

    Dammit. I'm meant to be doing other stuff.

    anyway the privacy issue is a big concern. it does beg the obvious question but enough


    I can't get the image of that kimono out of mind!

  12. Anonymous5:12 PM

    no cookies | no search-term records | access log deleted within 48 hours


  13. Anonymous5:13 PM


  14. Have you tried the proxy approach Justin? Looks clunky to use ...

    There's also anonymizer, which is automatic, and cheap, changes your visible IP address continually, like having continual proxies ... the other one looks as though you have to manually change it yourself.

  15. Anonymous7:38 AM

    That was just an example Caz, there are some pretty simple pieces of software, but be careful you are not downloading a nasty.

    Personally, at this stage of the game I'm not too concerned about privacy issues as I don't do any social networking and the sites I visit are really boring (except yours m'dear).


  16. You have to wonder whether those proxy services aren't setting up their own data mining operations in competition with google and the like.

    I predict future actions by heavies like google et al to recover damages from hidemyass et al for 'theft' of intellectual property.

    That's if those proxy approaches really take off, which I can't really see because, as with justin, privacy isn't a huge issue for most, even if they actually understand the technical issues. Let alone have any reservations about the 'moral' ones.

  17. Geoffff - there are many reasons why kimonos have belts that wrap around multiple times; I gather all of those reasons came to mind, simultaneously.

    (You'd never considered this until now, really? I thought everyone gave these things appropriate attention in the organization of their minds and everyday lives.)

    Jacob - yes, a lot of dire things out there, would never use most. Anonymizer is very good, at small cost, but there is momentary (meaning: additional second or two) added to every action, while a new IP is being generated in the background; not too bothersome, but really only for people who have serious concerns, or are hiding stuff from anyone who has access to their PC.

    I'd prefer to NOT have my IP address traced on blogs or when I leave comments on news articles, but other than that, what I do on my PC is pretty ordinary - wouldn't excite a bunch of nuns. Wanting to block my IP when I comment still isn't a big enough deal for me to subscribe to a slightly annoying bit of software each year. I reserve the right to change my mind on that though ... perhaps the day will come when I decide the kimono must not only be closed, but the legs crossed at all times.

  18. geoffff9:27 AM

    " perhaps the day will come when I decide the kimono must not only be closed, but the legs crossed at all times. "

    Sorry Caz. That isn't helping.

  19. Jacob7:55 PM

    Thing is, if the punters who use services provided by commercial entities don't play ball with the data miners and their ilk -- who ultimately 'pay' for those services -- we punters may find those services drying up as providers rationalise their business model -- by wacking up pay walls, for example. The impetus is always there to get the edge and push those margins beyond just serving 'dumb' ads to consumers.

  20. Jacob - doesn't need to be paid walls; Facebook and Apple have walls and ceilings, doesn't cost anything to leave the www and gather there ... except for every little thing about yourself (and for Apple, plus - cha ching - their 30% margin).

    At the risk of giving Geoffff palpitations, out there in the walled off places, they don't open their kimonos, they drop them entirely, and a modest crossing of legs is optional.

  21. Solomon9:06 PM

    It's still a struggle for me to imagine a circumstance where a search engine would require me to identify myself. It's like if a vending machine asked me for my name and identification.

    They can datamine my tits off, for all I care. If life gets too hard I'll change my name and move to Vanuatu.

  22. So when the day comes when you have no choice but to give that vending machine your name, mobile number and your ATM card number ... you'll forgo the can of coke, Sol?

    And you think hotmail doesn't track you?

  23. There are various levels by which a provider, say google, can 'track' you. The most basic level is your connection's ip address. If you're logged in to your google account, having checked the 'remember me' option, your connection's ip address is matched against whatever id you happen to use.

    Whether you use your own real name or a pseudonym, that entity is tracked for its preferences, predilections, online behaviours, etc.

    Up to now those broad patterns of your online behaviour have been enough, but now it appears 'they' want you body and soul. Not to mention presumably your credit card details.

    O brave new world! Judging by the behaviour of some of the internet 'giants' in colluding with the Chinese government against their 'dissidents' -- yep, including google, the evil bastards -- the word is... worry!

  24. Solomon7:10 PM

    "Whether you use your own real name or a pseudonym, that entity is tracked for its preferences, predilections, online behaviours, etc."

    So what?

  25. The extremely pertinent point being that Google can provide you, me and Jacob with targeted content no matter who we claim to be, so their ostensible argument (which is a load of shite in any case) is mind numbingly illogical.

    If I'm dead-beat-porn-guy on one of my logons, Google - bless 'em - will hit me with entirely appropriate ads and content for my couch interests.

    If I'm Ms Dilly Dally on another of my profiles, they'll make sure I'm targeted with ads and content for tulip bulbs, peppermint tea and day spas.

    As a profit making company, they literally have no need of my real name; I'm already a real person, generating real data, I therefore fully meet the needs of their business model and target profit margins no matter what I nominate as a label when I'm online.

    Google is claiming they won't back down on the push for 'real names', but we'll wait to see ... their public rational is laughably flimsy.

  26. Jacob9:57 PM

    "So what" indeed. There's nothing remarkable about what I've described, it's really that mundane. If on the other hand punters would prefer not to pay that 'price' for playing around in their infrastructure, they can find other (perhaps healthier) pursuits.

    The innovation that google wants here is to nail each punter as a real-world entity, reducible ultimately to one's unique credit details. I think many will resist that, so yeah Caz, wait and see.