The Pew Internet & American Life Project has released new survey, “The Future of the Internet,” which touches on privacy issues. The group interviewed about 900 respondents about the Internet of 2020. Included in the report was a discussion about the future of anonymous online activity.
Respondents were asked to explain their choice and “share your view about the future of anonymous activity online by the year 2020.” What follows is a selection of the hundreds of written elaborations and some of the recurring themes in those answers:
The pressures for authentication of internet users are growing and many are legitimate. New methods to accomplish that are being explored but it is not yet clear which ones will prevail in the marketplace. […]
“We’re moving into an increasingly authenticated and permission-based world. We’ll be known to others as a condition of doing what we want to do. That may not be all bad news – we’ll get loyalty points, after all – but we’ll have to ensure that traditionally anonymous political speech and criticism is somehow protected. When it comes to commerce, anonymity is over.” — Susan Crawford, former member of President Obama’s National Economic Council, now on the law faculty at the University of Michigan
“Anonymity online will gradually become a lot like anonymity in the real world. When we encounter it, we’ll take a firm grip on our wallet and leave the neighborhood as soon as possible — unless we’re doing something we’re ashamed of.” – Stewart Baker, internet legal specialist at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson […]
“I fully expect the pressures from both business and governance sectors to result in the widespread adoption of more reliable authentication for digitally enabled transactions. I don’t limit ‘pressures’ to threats and demands, as there will also be benefits associated with reliable identification. Anonymity will increasingly be associated with ‘antisocial’ behavior, and it will be moved to the boundaries or fringes of the net.” — Oscar Gandy, emeritus professor, University of Pennsylvania […]
The law and new regulations will give people some privacy protections even though they are required to disclose more. There will be a reasonable logic to sorting out what can be done anonymously and what requires authentication online. “Pseudonymity” will be available to people. Confidentiality and autonomy will be preserved and strengthened by then. […]
“Electronic identification systems will be more routinely built in to online programs and services. Relevant policies and regulations will be developed to help preserve user privacy when needed. These identification systems will make it easier for users to make secure purchases, access information and services, archive data, and participate in proprietary online systems. It will also make it easier to monitor and protect users from electronic predators and rip-off artists who like to operate in the dark. Unfortunately, there will also likely be some loss of privacy with the growth of these built-in electronic identification systems, but I believe the potential benefits of these systems will outweigh the detriments.” – Gary Kreps, Chair of Department of Communications, George Mason University
“Authentication systems will be more prevalent to overcome security problems for activities that require identification. For many purposes, however, there will be no need to identify people and companies will have no interest in knowing individuals’ identities.” — Tom Lenard, President, Technology Policy Institute […]
Final thought: The online world mirrors the offline world – and always will.
“Choice about whether or not to divulge personal information will not be substantially different from the physical world. One does not have to divulge one’s name to look in a store, but of course the store will want to know how they are to get paid. Nor does a newspaper (or website) have to publish content from unknown/unverifiable sources. And yes, there will be graffiti online as well as on walls. Why would one think it will be different – unless, of course both the physical world and the online worlds move in that direction in tandem because of other shared imperatives.” – Heywood Sloane, Managing Director, Bank Insurance & Securities Association