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Privacy vs. Anonymity

One of the perceived issues with the increased use of social networks and pervasive online activities is eroding of personal privacy. Some would have us believe that there will be no privacy in the future, and we just need to accept that fact.

I feel very differently. What is eroding is personal anonymity, which is very different then privacy.

We are coming up on a world where anonymity simply does not exist for most people. In most cases, I do not see this as a bad outcome at all. The way that I look at it is the Internet is like a public commons area. Anyone should be able to exercise free speech there. In the public commons, you can see who your detractors are, and this identification reduces their ability to attack your ideas in mass with slander and lies.

Anonymity gives rise to a culture where discussions are lost to the faceless mobs with the loudest voices. For example, if there are a few people in the public commons who respond to anyone saying anything that they remotely disagree with by screaming at the tops of their lungs, our forefathers would just remove their privileges to the common area. Problem solved.

If everyone is basically anonymous, how can you take any action?

This is the problem these days. Since there is a large degree of anonymity on the Internet, people are free to use bullying tactics and shout down any opposition to their views. People can also present themselves as experts, and their opinion as fact, with out most people being able to verify their validity as a source.

There are, of course cases where anonymity is warranted, and even a good thing. For example, living under a regime that takes hostile action against anyone who speaks out. In that case anonymity is highly advised, however it is achieved.

Privacy, on the other hand, is about how much personal information is out there. You have a lot of control over that. If you do not want a popular social networking site to know some facts about you, do not post them. It’s that simple.

Your privacy is in your control.

Even if you choose to use social networking sites, you can still limit your exposure simply by censoring what you post. It’s not Facebook’s fault that you post some embarrassing material on their site, and someone sees it. Even with tight privacy controls, someone can forward or even take a screen shot of it, and repost it.

Once you post it, it is out of your control.

I feel that we are holding the Facebooks and Googles of the world to a higher standard then is warranted. There is no more assumption of privacy when you post on your wall then if you are talking in a coffee shop. People can (and do) eavesdrop. Just keep that in mind. Realize that when your public face on the Internet causes you grief, who’s fault is it?

After all, you posted it, and if you did not there are already laws on the books to handle that.