Anonymity vs. Privacy

from the take-a-stand dept

Here’s a column by someone suggesting that the raging debate over privacy on the internet isn’t accurate. Instead of being about privacy, it’s really about people wanting to be anonymous online. He goes on to claim the only reaon people want to be anonymous online is because they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. Thus, he thinks the debate about privacy is really about some selfish individuals who don’t want to be held accountable for what they have to say. That seems a bit simplified – as there are plenty of situation where anonymity is important – and being anonymous is a great way to remain private. So, while I see the point of his argument, I don’t agree with it.

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Comments on “Anonymity vs. Privacy”

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xdroop (user link) says:

There is a difference

Way back in my NerdPerfect days, I wroge an articel which discussed the difference between privacy and anonymity. I came to much the same conclusion as our other correspondant, and went even one further than he did.

I decided that anonymity is a tool with which one deprives others of privacy. It is, fundamentally, a dodge from accountability.

Mary Jaekl (user link) says:

Re: There is a difference

Your article does not contain particularly rigorous logic.

From your article; “A cash transaction is also private but not anonymous, but the only interested parties are the vendor (verifying that I do indeed hold the cash) and me (verifying that the vendor does indeed hold the good or service to be purchased).”

This is the fundamental place where you go wrong. Cash transactions *are* actually anonymous, unless you happen to be using marked bills, or unless the cashier knows who you are.

I can guarantee you that if I go down to my local Walmart and pay for my purchase using coins, the transaction is as anonymous as can be expected in today’s society. It will not, however, be particularly private -> everyone else in the line is perfectly capable of seeing what I purchased, and often how much I paid. But they still won’t know my name, nor will they be capable of creating a user profile from this.

While I happen to believe that anonymity is usually unnecessary (and I’ll trade the convenience of plastic over cash every time), I also agree that privacy online is very important. How come? Because it’s much easier to collect data online than in the “real” world – and while I don’t care if interested parties keep records about me (ie go ahead, track my crackers purchases) – I do care somewhat if random third parties track what I’m doing (shades of big brother) and bug me via spam/banner ads etc.

And I care alot if said random parties try to use the information they collect to make assumptions about me, because the assumptions are almost always wrong for some reason. Maybe because past human behaviour is not a reliable indicator of future behaviour, especially if past behaviour was influenced by circumstances the info collector doesn’t know about (I was buying that book for my spouse. Really!)

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