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Can Internet Pseudonymity Be Saved?

timothy posted about a year ago | from the you-may-comment-anonymously dept.

Privacy 491

jfruh writes "Imagine that you're a lawyer who also runs a popular sexual fetish podcast. Or that you're a blogger on political issues and you want to determine for yourself who you're going to get into political arguments with. Or you're a transgender woman who isn't out to your real-life associates but you want to explore your gender identity online. Or that you're a female gamer who wants to play World of Warcraft without being hit on or harassed. All of these people have perfectly good reasons for wanting to use a pseudonym online. And yet more and more websites are making it difficult or impossible to do so, often for perfectly legitimate reasons of improving civility and stopping anonymous abuse. How can pseudonymity — one of the key foundations of early internet communities — be saved?"

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All? (1, Troll)

craznar (710808) | about a year ago | (#44873965)

Are you sure all of these people have perfectly good reasons ?

Absolutely sure ?

Re:All? (5, Insightful)

therealkevinkretz (1585825) | about a year ago | (#44874023)

Are you implying that you're sure one isn't? If it's necessary to err either on the side of protecting anonymity or the side of sacrificing privacy unnecessarily, it should be the former.

Re:All? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874031)

It's to protect the children and stop terrorism, citizen.

Re:All? (2, Insightful)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44874265)

It's to protect the children and stop terrorism, citizen.

Various governments can already figure out who is writing and doing what without accounts linked to real names. More likely companies are interested in it to combat fraud, defamation, and computer crime of various sorts. Various government also want to know who is saying what for many purposes, including repression.

There are societal trade-offs to support anonymity on the internet, but I think having it is a good think overall even if there are some problematic aspects of it.

Re:All? (5, Insightful)

epyT-R (613989) | about a year ago | (#44874071)

Who are you to say what those reasons should be?

Re:All? (2)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about a year ago | (#44874329)

If its not up to anyone what the reasons should be, don't present a list of reasons that people will disagree with.

Re:All? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874505)

Maybe I'm the guy providing the service. Maybe I don't like people misrepresenting themselves to (and potentially endangering) other users of my service? If you don't like the service I'm offering maybe go somewhere else or run your own? I'm not saying I condone the stigma/behaviour associated with the situations presented, but these are problems of our society today in general - the internet is just one possible stage they are played out on...

To the original post, as I see it, if I am providing a service out of my own pocket I get to dictate the terms by which it is used. I cannot force you to use it.

Re:All? (4, Insightful)

Score Whore (32328) | about a year ago | (#44874513)

The assumed principle is that each of these people has the right to interact with others while hiding their real life identity. And to a certain extent I agree that one has the right to present oneself however one chooses.

But, what about my right to only interact with people who are willing to put their real life identity behind their words and actions? Any right that assures fetishists, trannys and political radicals a sense of anonymity also assures the rest of society the option to require a lack of anonymity.

If this means that we can't come to an agreement on how we will communicate, then that is the price to be paid for our mutual decisions.

There has never been any society in which an individual got to have full participation while simultaneously defining their own norms. Social norms are defined by the group and if you can't abide by those norms then you will have to pay the price that comes from your choice. And that is not unfair or an injustice.

Re:All? (1)

DexterIsADog (2954149) | about a year ago | (#44874081)

Do all of "these people" cited as examples in TFS have good reasons? I think nearly anyone would say yes, they do, since they have an obvious motivation, and no attributes of these hypothetical people were identified that would make them undeserving of privacy.

Are we having reading comprehension troubles cause by firstpostitis?

Re:All? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874083)

Nothing mentioned is illegal but some are potentially embarrassing if you are surrounded by people with narrow mindsets, so yes.

Re:All? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874111)

So having personal privacy is no longer a right? How about whistle-blowers, and those in repressive nations who want to tell the world about human rights abuse, or those who have varied interests and are afraid that some future repressive Super Patriot Act will not track all past searches and look for evil doers? The McCarthy Anti-Communist hearings did that with written material. If I type in a misspelled word and go to a really bad site it is tracked by Google and Bing and held forever. A "timeline" open to any agency that feels it might have a need to search for something, even years in the future. Scary. Big Brother is alive and well.

Re:All? (2)

Penguinisto (415985) | about a year ago | (#44874119)

Are you sure all of these people have perfectly good reasons ?

Absolutely sure ?

Who cares if they do or not? The point is that one should not be *forced* to carry one's real name everywhere they go (as if that wasn't easy to fake online, but I digress...)

Re:All? (2)

jedidiah (1196) | about a year ago | (#44874407)

The internet is a dangerous place. People have been lulled into believing that this is not the case. Protecting your identity is your first line of defense against crazies and anyone else that wants to do you harm.

Allowing net.crazies as a tradeoff for enabling everyone to avoid the real ones.

A lot of the "OMG Privacy!" complaints fall away if you allow people to disassociate from their real identity.

Re:All? (5, Insightful)

P-niiice (1703362) | about a year ago | (#44874135)

If I choose to, that's reason enough. No need to go any further anto it.

Re:All? (-1, Redundant)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44874379)


Re:All? (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#44874173)

Every single person doesn't need a solid defensible reason in order to be able to conclude there are, in fact, plenty of good reasons why you would like to have pseudonymous use of the internet.

That there are people who will be doing it for shady purposes doesn't invalidate that not everything everybody does do they want tied to their real world names and published for the world to see.

You can be not breaking any laws and still want some privacy.

Re:All? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874489)

Not that I disagree with you, but I hate this argument on an intellectual level. Not everything works well when a choice is given individual actors vs some policy or regulation making the choice for you (indeed that is why sometimes policies and regulations are needed). Just saying that there shouldn't be a policy or regulation isn't really making a case for why it should be that way.

In particular,

That there are people who will be doing it for shady purposes doesn't invalidate that not everything everybody does do they want tied to their real world names and published for the world to see.

is a form of argument that applies to any individual choice vs policy style argument, and it is very weak unless supported by an argument that shows that negative uses are rare and or are overcome by beneficial uses. i.e. that eliminating negative uses would also more greatly harm positive uses.

Many (4, Insightful)

themushroom (197365) | about a year ago | (#44874213)

I know quite a few people, myself included, who either have two profiles on Facebook -- the public one and the private one -- or go with a pseudonym because they want to preserve their privacy. And not for nefarious reasons, because they only want to be connected to people significant to them and not to everyone. Like for instance, a lawyer may have a professional presence but keep the family elsewhere, or a teacher keeps everything out of where students and adminstration could see it.

It's been mentioned already that you can be shitcanned for what you put online, even if it's not a picture of your junk or a status update about a party you're at. It has been done for the weakest of reasons because somebody with some power doesn't agree with your private POV. Some people would like to be netizens like everyone else without having to deal with oversensitive vindictive dickheads snooping on them.

I just tell people I don't trust I don't have a Facebook since my username doesn't involve my given name in any form and usually don't friend anyone I work with, and without a lot of work some HR spy isn't going to find how how much I love kittens and midget bowling.

Re:Many (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874425)

Even better: Don't have a Facebook. I've never had one and most of my friends (real life people - I don't bother with online friends) don't have one either. If something requires that I use Facebook credentials I simply move on with my life. I think all too often people forget there is a real world outside social network junk.

People give me lots of reasons to be on social networks: Staying in contact with old classmates (that's what a reunion is for), meeting friends abroad (I travel for recreation all over the world), or knowing what people are up to (I don't care if your crap is extra "greenish" today). I have yet to find my life negatively impacted by avoiding all that nonsense.

Re:All? (1)

betterprimate (2679747) | about a year ago | (#44874263)

They aren't. Pseudonymity/anonymity exists in the real world. I can observe or participate in a political rally without being personally identifiable. I can travel the world with only the customs officer knowing who I am.

Ideas and dialog are fostered by pseudonymity/anonymity without stigma or fear of being ostracized.

Re:All? (3, Interesting)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about a year ago | (#44874551)

"I can observe or participate in a political rally without being personally identifiable."

If you are in public, you are identifiable. This doesn't mean you have been, it just means it is possible. Remember the Boston Bombing? Those guys were "anonymous" but quickly found out that they weren't really "unknown". Pictures surfaced, faces were identified, and the search was quickly started.

You are delusional if you think that you can be anonymous in public. Unidentified is not the same thing as "not being identifiable".

Re:All? (1)

thej1nx (763573) | about a year ago | (#44874389)

Think of it this way. Let us take the number two reason for such breaches of personal privacy(money being the number one reason), i.e. terrorism.

If you were actually a foreign terrorist, and for some insane reason you did decide to discuss your "super secret plans" in email or over phone, unless you are completely retarded as well, you will use your local dialect instead of English. And you will use common words or phrase *in your own dialect* as previously agreed codewords. You will NOT communicate in English. So NSA might flag the foreign language conversation as suspicious, but I doubt there will be a perfect automatic speech translation in place that can immediately translate. And even if you had someone translate ever single piece of foreign language conversation, you still will have to deal with guessing what the code words mean.

In other words, a sweeping eavesdropping program will get you zilch unless you even for a second believe the other guys to be total morons. They might be insane, but they are not at least that. Only time you will have results by eavesdropping is if you already knew someone to be a terrorist, and were monitoring all their calls and tried to assume everything to be a terrorist communication.

The other situation where you will have results is, if we change the definition of results to "eavesdrop on our own troublemaker citizens and political opponents and have blackmail material on them to ensure we stay in power". Now *those* are the guys who will communicate in a language your eavesdropper program can listen to and collect material on. Think of collecting bits and pieces of info on every time someone mentions your political opponent's name and sifting through that to see if you can find anything on him to ensure his complete submission.

And unless you want to have a de facto dictatorship cemented even further and no chances of having even a semblance of democracy, feel free to sacrifice privacy. You will eventually sacrificing your freedom or liberty too.

Re:All? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874415)

No, I'm not sure. But who is better at determining whether or not their reasons are good? Them, or someone else (e.g. you, me)? It seems like the expertise is going to always be with the person who wants to be anonymous. By the time someone else is able to judge them, the anonymity would be lost.

What really sucks, though, is that anonymity is kind in direct conflict with doing PK crypto right. Either you know who you're talking to and have authenticated key exchange, or you don't know, and therefore don't know if you're being MitMed. That doesn't mean anonymous people shouldn't encrypt, just that they can't do it with the same assurances as everyone else.

Re:All? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874509)

Are you sure all of these people have perfectly good reasons ?

Absolutely sure ?

Since "because I want to" is always a perfectly good reason, then yes they all do.

People using pseudonyms is as old as names are. Artists and writers quite often publish under "pen names". Actors, performers, and celebrities often adopt "stage names". All through history (since the advent of writing) people have distributed pamphlets anonymously or using pseudonyms, written messages on walls, buildings, etc.

The desire to know who is making a statement is founded in the desire to retaliate against the person who made the statement in most cases.

Don't log in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44873977)

and clear your cookies*

* browser state, including cookies, cache, history, etc.

Re:Don't log in (3, Informative)

zidium (2550286) | about a year ago | (#44874467)

Don't forget about The Panopticlick. Clearing stuff simply isn't enough.

Can't Stop Won't Stop (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44873979)

I have maintained a pseudonym online as much as possible, and will continue to do so. The guy out in Colorado or somewheresville who has the actual name probably is none too pleased

Use one anyway. (1)

bobbutts (927504) | about a year ago | (#44873997)

It's not a perfect solution, but most of these real name policies have no actual way to vet the users.

Re:Use one anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874185)

anything that links to credit card

Re:Use one anyway. (1)

Frigga's Ring (1044024) | about a year ago | (#44874341)

Even then, you're often given an choice to have your billing information different than your account information. If you don't want the transactions on your credit card tied to your purchases, there are ways around that as well.

Re:Use one anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874347)

That would clean the net of all the retarded Europeans without a mass genocide... thanks, AC.

Identify it (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874001)

Give people the choice of creating a "Real Name" account with proof or a "Pseudonym" account, and make this choice visible to everyone else.

Re:Identify it (2, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44874115)

Oh, for mod points.

Re:Identify it (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874205)

This seems like an attempt to appease everyone without actually understanding the issue.

To the extent "banning" pseudonyms pleases some people, it does so by letting them retaliate. After you say something that displeases anyone in a position of power---an employer, a bitchy parent of a child in school, a litigious person, a government spook---they can use your non-pseudonymous name to find you in another area and retaliate. It's possible to retaliate across time as well as forum: when you seek employment, your employer in the position of power can Google your name and look for distant past speech. And the proportion of retaliation is entirely up to the person in the position of power.

If only we could enable this retaliation for things "everyone" agrees are bad, like "trolling," and not for being gay or having a political view that some people don't like.

We can't do that. What we can do is have a class of people who's much less vulnerable to retaliation than everyone else. Surprise: these people think you're "hiding behind" your pseudonym. This is the chief effect at work here, and your plan makes it worse, not better.

If you are going to make a prescription it should be the opposite one: revealing your "real name" should be forbidden on the forum because even when only some people do it, it increases the power imbalance. proposed rule: If you use a name intended to look real, or claim that something is your real name, or reveal your real name in the text of your comment, you're banned.

improving "civility"? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874005)

citation needed: what kind of pseudonym restriction actually does improve civility?

You can't just speculate that it does. You can't even play games of association that don't prove causality. You need to actually show it. I understand it matches your intuition, but I think your intuition is wrong.

Re:improving "civility"? (3, Interesting)

zidium (2550286) | about a year ago | (#44874521)

It removes the ability to **easily** create dozens (or even hundreds) of sockpuppet accounts.

Especially on reddit, dozens of pseudonymous accounts will stalk me and attack me at a moment's notice, even after I've been away for a year or more. I have no idea if this cabal is made up of 12 people or just 1 deranged lunatic, or any combination thereof. I just know that they know my real name, address, etc. and I know NOTHING about them.

Real names (at least tied to facebook) would greatly increase their initial efforts AND would feasibly provide their victims with more intel on how to track them down and publicly shame them.

I've never been the target of sockpuppet accounts on ANY real-id type site.

Example: Comments on online local newspaper (5, Informative)

crow (16139) | about a year ago | (#44874025)

Our local newspaper publishes almost everything online. It also allows people to make comments. A few years ago, they decided to deal with the level of uncivil comments by requiring everyone to establish an account before posting. After a few months, it was mostly back to normal, but marginally better. Then this summer, they switched to requiring a Facebook or Linked-In login, and almost all commenting stopped--not just the problem comments, all comments.

They killed the commenting system by trying to force real identities.

online local newspaper (1)

themushroom (197365) | about a year ago | (#44874269)

I wonder how this will shake out for a major Puget Sound newspaper that a couple days ago they announced they are going that direction, using Facebook logins and dropping the anon/pseud posting ability. But this would be where the nonpersonal/semipersonal throwaway Facebook accounts come in...

Re:online local newspaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874573)

I refuse to use my facebook id to log into any other service. Talk about choosing the service with the most messed up security!

Re:Example: Comments on online local newspaper (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874471)

There have been numerous studies about the behavior of people with and without a means of positive identification. Unfortunately I can't find the references (at work, ya know...), but two distinct studies come to mind. The first was people in cars and the cognitive disassociation we have with other drivers, we don't often see faces or make eye contact, so other people just become cars, inanimate objects we cannot empathise with. As a result, we have no issues screaming at that mother of 3 who's trying to keep her kids calm, all because she switched lanes without using her signal. The other study had to do with online interactions, individuals who were able to use pseudonyms routinely did not feel any remorse or regret with their online interactions and forum posts, why? Because of the same sort of disassociation. Since our actions are not tied to ourselves and we do not get an immediate response from whomever complete with facial expressions, we have no problems acting like total assholes.

Both cases have to do with the disassociation we have with others who we do not make eye contact with, we do not know, and we do not see what else they may be dealing with. Also in both cases, the problem is remedied by bringing the human social interaction back into play. There is a city in Europe (saw it on Discovery channel) that completely did away with stoplights, instead forcing people to look at other cars, make eye contact with other drivers, and invoke some communication. Accidents dropped significantly, gridlock was reduced, and the town overall was easier to navigate, even as a pedestrian or bicyclist.

So yes, your newspaper may have killed the commenting system by using real identities, but they also did a service to their public image by annihalating the individuals that hide behind anonymity to pick fights and generally act like jerks because now there is an individual that fingers can be pointed at.

Re:Example: Comments on online local newspaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874483)

May have been intentional. A comment system probably can't be profitable if they need to pay moderators 24*7.

My newspaper's comments are full of trolls and kooks. On certain stories, almost half the comments are deleted or are from banned users. They once interviewed their top commenter, and he lived half-way across the country. It is only a matter of time before they either drop the comments or go the facebook route.

Lie (5, Interesting)

Karmashock (2415832) | about a year ago | (#44874041)

Few social networking sites... almost none... are really able to figure out your real name. They might ask you to give a "real name"... and you can do that... but it doesn't have to be your real name.

You can be Bruce Wayne... Or George Washington... or whatever. How are they going to stop it? Pull a credit card off you? Who is paying for social networking? Exactly.

There are a lot of data bases with a lot of information on everyone. But how much of that information is actually accurate? The dirty little secret is that most of the information in those databases is garbage.

Which is good for us. Keep filling it with garbage. When the data miners open wide, stuff their mouths with trash and keep shoveling until they're full. They'll believe they have some means to filter fact from fiction but they're welcome to try.

This is the price of an automated system. Computers as we all know are stupid. Very easy to lie to them. And are we under any legal obligation to not lie to these people? No we are not. And even if we were, and I'd love to see a lawyer try to get a jury to convict someone of such a thing, then would it be worth the effort even to set an example? Not really.

Lie and keep lying.

Re:Lie (2, Interesting)

neminem (561346) | about a year ago | (#44874089)

That works, until you actually *do* need them to have your real name for some other reason. My best friend from high school did exactly that for WoW, because he didn't see any reason for them to have his real name, so he just gave them a fake "real name". Then, a couple years later, he sent them money for a renewal and their system was messed up and didn't process it right, and when he went to complain, they had a huge mess trying to fix it because his "real name" wasn't his actual real name.

Re:Lie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874247)

You need a better example because I do not feel sympathy for a kid not getting his WoW fix

Re:Lie (1)

neminem (561346) | about a year ago | (#44874419)

And that matters why? My point wasn't that you should feel sympathy for him, my point was simply that it's not a perfect solution, because it could cause problems later. It could cause problems later anywhere.

Re:Lie (3, Insightful)

Karmashock (2415832) | about a year ago | (#44874409)

Your friend didn't handle it correctly.

In the event that you have to pay, you do not need the payment information to match the account information. For example, if some child sets up an account on one of these systems his parents will ultimately pay for it through their credit card etc. Thus the payment information does not match the account name.

So you say, "yes, my name is Bruce wayne... And this is the payment method"... there is no need for them to match.

Re:Lie (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44874149)

Few social networking sites... almost none... are really able to figure out your real name. They might ask you to give a "real name"... and you can do that... but it doesn't have to be your real name.

You can be Bruce Wayne... Or George Washington... or whatever. How are they going to stop it?

The latest trend is towards sending a message to your mobile phone with an account creation code.

Why do you ask...?

Re:Lie (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about a year ago | (#44874287)

I've seen gmail doing that... but I'm not sure that gets you to a name. And regardless, you can claim you don't have a cell phone. It tends to be an optional step.

Re:Lie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874515)

I've seen gmail doing that... but I'm not sure that gets you to a name.

Facebook uploads mobile phone contacts almost automatically. Your real name is the one which the matches your phone number in the majority of people's phone books who have it. It actually doesn't matter if it's your "real" real name (though 99% of the time it will be\). Facebook knows what most people call you and that is most of what they care about.

N.B. Facebook will never share this data with you, even if you make a data protection request in the EU. The reason is that it isn't "your" data. The data belongs to your friends.

Re:Lie (1)

macbeth66 (204889) | about a year ago | (#44874401)

The latest trend is towards sending a message to your mobile phone with an account creation code.

Why do you ask...?

So? I have access to a number of Pre-Paid phones.

Re:Lie (4, Informative)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44874567)

So? I have access to a number of Pre-Paid phones.

Lucky you. There's no such thing as an anonymous, pre-paid phone in most countries.

Re:Lie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874383)

And are we under any legal obligation to not lie to these people? No we are not. And even if we were, and I'd love to see a lawyer try to get a jury to convict someone of such a thing, then would it be worth the effort even to set an example? Not really.

Lie and keep lying.

If you lie about your information when signing up you typically are violating the ToS. This makes it illegal. If that's the only thing you do wrong then nobody is going to prosecute you, but combine that with other questionable activities then you could get prosecuted for it.

See: Lori Drew []

Re:Lie (1)

gsslay (807818) | about a year ago | (#44874443)

I would agree with you 100%, but now more and more online setups are getting audacious enough to demand, yes demand proof of your identity. This is where the line is crossed. I can sign up for a power supply, cable, telephone and newspaper delivery. I can enter a shop and buy practically anything I want. All without being obliged to produce a birth certificate, or a governmental identifier. But some crappy website demands a copy of my paperwork, before it'll give me the privilege of viewing their adverts??

Well screw that. I do not want my bank to know what my taste in Youtube videos is. I do not want Facebook to know what newsfeeds I prefer. I do not want things joined up through a real identity because I see no advantage to me whatsoever in joining them, only disadvantages. They are already joined where it matters; in my head.

Web of trust? (5, Insightful)

mlts (1038732) | about a year ago | (#44874057)

I've always wondered about some web of trust available for this. For example:

I have a website, and want people to comment. Someone decides to authenticate with a keyID. My server checks what certificates are associated with the public key. One cert from a semi-trustworthy source shows the anon ID is actually associated with a live person. Another cert from a decently trustworthy source shows the person is a frequent poster at a website. Still another shows that the ID has been in use on sites on a daily basis without any site bans for a few years.

With this info in mind, even though I have no clue whom the person is, I can reasonably assume that it will be either someone good at ID theft, or someone that likely won't be trolling/spamming.

A reputation based system would be useful. The public key can be anonymous, but with CAs (of varying trust levels), I can find that the person has been proven to be not a bot, has a positive reputation on various sites, is known by friends and people I do trust, etc. Of course, on the other hand, I get a key that has absolutely zero certificates on it, I'd probably not bother to allow it on.

Re: Web of trust? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874393)

Reputation based is based on the type & reputation of the website. I'm flagged as a troll on a site that I respectfully disagree with, but I'm a stud on a site I agree with and troll the shit out of those who disagree.

Not saved (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874065)

Internet STRONG anonymity should be enforced as default over the tubes.
Our protocols should be revised for the future with that consideration in mind.

You might like the idea or not, this is the future, there's no escaping.

Barriers between identities (3, Informative)

pellik (193063) | about a year ago | (#44874069)

With tracking cookies and javascript hacks being as prevalent as they are I've been using separate sandboxes for browsing profiles for some time now with Sandboxie. I suppose I could go extra paranoid and throw in a proxy, too.

As long as the sites which know your real identity are walled away from the rest of the internet tracking then some level of anonymity can still be expected.

Don't try to hide behind a pseudonym. (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#44874073)

Except for that last one ( female gamer who wants to play World of Warcraft without being hit on or harassed), I can see why you might want to be using a pseudonym, but I wouldn't expect it to really cover your identity either. If you have a big online presence, people will be able to figure out who you are.

As far as games go, I like online games using the "Mario Kart" model much better than anything else. When you're playing against the general public, it's more enjoyable to just play. No talking, no messaging, no real names. I actually prefer the private server model, where I only play against people I know, but that sadly seems to be going away.

Re:Don't try to hide behind a pseudonym. (5, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year ago | (#44874275)

If you have a big online presence, people will be able to figure out who you are.

I used to follow a pediatrician who would often rail against the conventional wisdom - he happened to be very science-based and would not put up with patients who demanded scrips for viruses, etc. He would blow off steam on his blog.

Over time he started to leak info about himself - where he went to school, some nearby towns, etc. I left a comment or two advising him to stop doing that.

A bit later he started talking about a court case he was involved in. This was about the time the "hunt was on" for @FakeSteveJobs and I was curious to see what was possible - I did a few google searches and it wasn't too hard to figure out who he was, since court filings are public.

A month or so later, he disclosed that opposing council's staff had done the same, and used his blog posts to force a settlement.

My take away: if you're going to do something like this, never include any personal details and/or never cross paths with the legal system. But if I lived near his town, I'd definitely take my kids there.

Re:Don't try to hide behind a pseudonym. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874277)

Pseudonyms are great, you never know when someone will come along and take out of context a brilliant parody you made years ago [] and attempt to destroy your career with it because they don't like something else you said.

Simply put, it can't. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874075)

You can't legislate or regulate intent. And that's the problem here. A pseduonym protects identity. It would be great to create "anonymity for those who need it" and not "anonymity for those who will abuse it." But separating the groups is difficult to impossible. Unless you're doing detailed independent background checks on people, how can you possibly know who's who (and even then it's questionable).

Even some kind of "report abuse!" function with abusers "giving up" their anonymity will be abused (specifically, trolls will use it to "unmask" legitimate users).

The internet is a big place. I'm sad that it brings out the worst in so many people. But it's not changing. Get used to it.

What a crisis! NOT (5, Interesting)

water-and-sewer (612923) | about a year ago | (#44874077)

I'm not sure "anybody" has to "do anything" at all - there are many models for communication and people can - for the moment, anyway - use whichever ones they like.

I'm an old Usenet fan, but am perfectly aware the ability to nymshift led to a culture of spamming and verbal harrassment that are basically unacceptable and that helped kill Usenet as a communication platform (not totally; I'm still on it, as are others, but it's a shadow of its former self).

Slashdot allows a pseudonym and if you want to advertise your website or Twitter feed, you can do so. You can also be anonymous if you like.

Reddit allows pseudonyms and even throw-away accounts, and many people think that's been a big part of its success. On the other hand, Facebook requires you to use a real name. At first, that kept people honest, but now we've seen it's not that hard for spammers and scumbags to set up fake accounts and Facebook is somewhat powerless to stop it. So that did or did not work.

My point is just that there are many existing models, and they compete for attention. If your transgendered lawyer wants to run a podcast, s/he'll decide whether to do it under her own name on Facebook or using a pseudnym elsewhere. The platforms compete. Bloggers who want to get name recognition can use their name; bloggers who want anonymity can blog under a fake name.

There's a good debate waiting about the merits of the different platforms. And it's essential Netizens fight against any effort to do away with anonymity at the policy level. But for the moment I'm not convinced there's a crisis of any sort, or any need for people to "act now" to "save the internet."

Re:What a crisis! NOT (0)

jedidiah (1196) | about a year ago | (#44874495)

It's 2013.

Technological progress "killed" Usenet as a communications platform, not nymshifting trolls.

Mod Parent up (1)

coyote_oww (749758) | about a year ago | (#44874575)

Handwaving and alarm is unwarranted at this time. If your favorite site switches to a system you don't like, that doesn't mean a national crisis.

And yeah, anonymity killed USENET. It isn't an unmitigated good. There is only so long you can swim in filth before you get out of the pool, or the pool gets drained and it's metaphoric value recycled into cars and Hitler.

Impossible? Pshaw. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874091)

There's no enforcement. Just captcha-style checks in place to prevent "fake" account info they can't sell to marketing partners. Fuck em.

If you want pseudonyms... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874095)

Well, use "internet communities" that accept pseudonyms - if you want pseudonyms!
But don't demand it from those "internet communities" that don't want to use them.

Legitimate reasons? (5, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about a year ago | (#44874105)

They're not doing it to improve civility or stop anonymous abuse. These can both be solved by other, less intrusive mechanisms. Even Slashdot manages it: penalise anonymous users a lot, penalise new members a little bit, and require users to establish a reputation to gain full participation. If they lose that reputation, their ability to participate drops off. The real reason that they want real names is because it makes the information that they harvest and sell to advertisers more valuable if it's tied to a real name and address.

Persistent Pseudonymous Reputation (5, Insightful)

Bob9113 (14996) | about a year ago | (#44874113)

If your pseudonym is persistent, reputation still matters. It does not matter whether your pseudonym can be connected to your meatspace identity; reputation is still reptuation.

The real problem with online harrassment, trolling, etc is that people lend credence to transient identities. Not a problem here, because we have persistent pseudonyms and transient identities. Transient identities get treated with skepticism and ignored if they're being abusive. Persistent pseudonyms which have earned a reputation are granted wider latitude to make their case.

The problem is not pseudonymity, or even transient identities and anonymity. It is that most public fora do not make it easy to distinguish between a member in good standing and a drive-by-troll.

Re:Persistent Pseudonymous Reputation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874369)

If reputation is worth something, at some point you can buy accounts with reputations just like those twitter account.
On the other hand if you judge a comment solely based on content and not pseudonym, there is no gaming.

Go elsewhere? (1)

fey000 (1374173) | about a year ago | (#44874125)

How about those who wish for pseudonymity should use websites that allow for pseudonymity? There are some excellent arguments both for and against an anonymous internet, but I have yet to see one that requires *all* of the internet to conform to the desired policy, and I find it highly unlikely that the whole internet will require personal authentication anytime soon.

If you cannot use Facebook for fear of being discovered by your neighbours, why not use something else? I can understand someone wants to use the most popular social network, but it seems a long shot to convince such a large company to provide a service that runs counter to their economic interests.

Or as Bobby pointed out above, do some magic and create a fake persona with noone the wiser.

Re:Go elsewhere? (1)

BaronM (122102) | about a year ago | (#44874339)

The problem with 'go elsewhere' is that there may well be nowhere else to go with anything close to the same functionality or community. If it's a 'free' service, then it most likely means that the business model relies on building profiles of the users as the basis for targeted marketing, which means strongly inhibiting anonymity. If it's a paid-for service, you need to pay, which pretty much kills anonymity (no, payment via bitcoin only is NOT a viable mass-market business strategy).

I suppose a paid-for, non-advertising driven service could support pseudonymity unless required to divulge real identities by law enforcement, but I can't see such services becoming more than niche players.

no (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874177)

Posting as Anon Coward to prove the point.

People say they want free speech, which they do. Just not more than they hate trolls.

So trolls win.

I use a pseudonym (5, Interesting)

Jason Levine (196982) | about a year ago | (#44874179)

Not on Slashdot (my account predates getting married and having kids... back in the days when I only had myself to worry about and didn't think anything bad could come of having my real name out there), but on my blog/Twitter/etc. My wife and I use pseudonyms because we often discuss parenting issues and will post photos of our kids. We don't want someone tracking us or our kids down, though, so we don't use real names and obviously don't use our address or name of our kids' school. It's not impossible to track us down, but it makes it hard for some random Internet stalker (yes, I've encountered at least one) to call my work to "report" me to my boss for crimes she imagines I committed. (Said Internet stalker has harassed lots of people online and has contacted at least 1 person's employer because he used his real names/place of business online.)

One of the big reasons why I don't use Facebook or Google+ (besides lack of time to be on a million social networking sites), is that they require that you use (and reveal to the world) your real name. (If they really wanted to require real names but support pseudonyms, it wouldn't be hard to devise a system where your real name was hidden to all and your pseudonym was displayed instead.)

depends on what you really want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874183)

If you want to be anonymous then you have to actively seek it. You can only have privacy if you choose too and you will have to make sacrifices to achieve it.

As a contrast, we live in a society that thinks nothing will come of their stupid youtube video and if it does it will only be awesome. We are so very narcissistic but to be a real narcissist you have to attach an identity to it. Most people do not want anonymity, they want fame. (Some exceptions being people who are really confident and/or serial killers.) We need more people to understand that you don't have to put your name on every thing and no not everyone thinks you are cool because maybe you are not cool. (high probability of not)

The people of this story want to be concealed but can't figure out how to. At this point they must decide what is more important, anonymity as an alternate self or presentation of actual self. (I will interject that the advice to "be yourself" is often bad advice that should be replaced with something like "become something better" or "improve yourself.")

Posting as AC for obvious reasons :-)

Few suffer for many (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874195)

When you have 10,000 trolls and 10 people with legitimate reasons to stay hidden, you need to pick which is more important to you.

Re:Few suffer for many (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about a year ago | (#44874387)

The 10 people.
mods deal with trolls posting shit.

Re:Few suffer for many (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about a year ago | (#44874543)

Even the original newsreader had the means to deal with trolls.

It's not any kind of new or difficult problem.

If find the noise pollution on modern websites to be far more of a problem as they often have no facilities to allow the user to filter out nonsense. Or worse, such websites actually thrive off of reducing the S/N ratio to near zero.

Nay, Google Play reviews Google+ (2)

itsme1234 (199680) | about a year ago | (#44874221)

Google killed a good part of "pseudonimity" with this crazy move to link your Google+ profile to your play/market reviews (even for just giving X stars without any comment).
WTF? Ok, google knows a lot of stuff about me, where I am, it reads my email, some documents, knows a good chunk of what I browse, etc. WHATEVER. However, I just don't want to have a list of apps and apps rating associated with my name. It just feels wrong.

Re:Nay, Google Play reviews Google+ (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874361)

They were having problems with fake reviews, and this solved a good chunk of them.

I don't like it either, but I don't have any alternate suggestions, you know?

Forced anonymity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874235)

Pseudonyms are just as bad as real names.

Answer (4, Insightful)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about a year ago | (#44874245)

How can pseudonymity — one of the key foundations of early internet communities — be saved?

By not using services on the web that don't allow it.

But I really am (2)

SkinnyChick (546560) | about a year ago | (#44874301)

a SkinnyChick ...

Digital Cages: 3 Pre-requisites to Freedom (1)

ProfessorDork (2755655) | about a year ago | (#44874317)

There are 3 Pre-req's to real Freedom. The abilities to:

1. learn;
2. speak; and
3. spend...

W/o these, authentic freedom cannot exist. The battle against anonymity is a battle for control. You cannot exact costs on people for their speech or political views if you can't identify them. You can't stop an idea, only the messenger. That's all we are talking about. That's all that matters. That's what's at stake. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The ability to "explore" (aka "learn") and then speak about what you've learned, or, worst yet, put your money where your mouth is (the highest form of speech) threatens business models, governments, etc. Basically, when we learn, we speak, and spend... and cause change. It is perfectly understandable why a company or government would want to have total control over this power... less someone question the foundational assumptions that belie a particular value proposition... of a product, service, institution or governing principle. Increasingly, we will have to figure out how to trust ourselves with authentic freedom... or decide if it is better to eliminate it. The lion used to rule the jungle. Today, it lives in a cage. People may find their way into cages one day as well, but by choice... or the perception of it. The digital cage is already under construction and accepting early applications from interested parties. Now back to a game of Candy Crush...

Let's all change our legal names to F.U. Facebook (2)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about a year ago | (#44874353)

And see how long their "real names" policy lasts.

Simple enough, really. (3, Insightful)

seebs (15766) | about a year ago | (#44874395)

Admit that the reasons are not "perfectly legitimate", but have no basis in reality. Real names don't make people civil. Communities that are willing to kick out people who are abusive make people civil -- or, at least, omit the people who aren't.

less anonymous early days of internet (2)

peter303 (12292) | about a year ago | (#44874411)

'In the olden days", i.e. the 70s and 80s, computer accounts were rationed one per user by a central bureaucracy. It was almost always part or all of your real name. I did not have psuedonomy on uset then. Even though I would make "what if" arguments, people would still infer my known background had something to do with my argument. Many fewer trolls then too. the in 90s it went the other way and you could have as many accounts as you wanted in whatever handle you wanted. This caused account-remembering problems and well as poor troll behavior. Still you are only one level away from having your true identity known, either from clever detective work or a search warrant. I would not be totally boorish online.

One word: Moderation (4, Insightful)

Radtastic (671622) | about a year ago | (#44874417)

The problem of abuse on forums and online can be solved with good moderation. Unfortunately, most online sites don't bother to have someone ban users or delete posts based on users abusive behavior.

A properly moderated site enforces civil behavior - psuedonym or not.

Imagine? (1)

Provocateur (133110) | about a year ago | (#44874429)

a lawyer who also runs a popular sexual fetish podcast

OMG! It's like, I have a twin!

Banning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874433)

I prefer to use my name. I get banned everywhere.

I am impotant -- no woman worries.
I am disabled -- no employer or employee issues.
I'm Moses. Fucken carte blanche legally... or insane.
I don't give a fuck except what God thinks.

Terry Davis

God says...

ver, copper, tin, in lowly state
  Off the bare earth and on earth's fruits didst dine;
  Live thou, of thine eternal glory sure.
      So long as on the round of the fourth sphere
      The bright Apollo shall his coursers steer,
  In thy renown thou shalt remain secure,
  Thy country's name in story shall endure,
      And thy sage author stand without a peer.

To Don Quixote of la Mancha


  In slashing, hewing, cleaving, word and deed,
      I was the foremost knight o

privacy is an ends unto itself (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874447)

being left the fuck alone needs to be the "default" setting

and no participating in society (going out in public, talking to people, posting online) does not imply that the participant is willingly anonymity rights

anonymity is the only defense the powerless have against the powerful, that is why powerful people hate the idea and are working so hard to get rid of it

Hey Slashdot! (3, Funny)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | about a year ago | (#44874461)

How about giving us an update on how you protect Anonymous Cowards? Is the web server a ram disk that erases everything when shut down? You guys are pretty technical... let us know!

Uh... start an anonymous community? (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about a year ago | (#44874469)

If you can't find a community which supports anonymous users, then you should be able to start one yourself.

As long as your community is small (under 100 users), then the costs should be tiny.

If you get larger than that, it may be harder to get advertising to pay for costs.

But I think you should be able to run a reasonable community for a couple thousand bucks a year (including a business class internet connection so you can run your own server).

Usenet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874499)

Short answer: Usenet

Long answer: Usenet

Support the EFF (1)

uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) | about a year ago | (#44874523)

None of these posts have addressed the very real possibility that pseudonyms may be made illegal by various governments. We need vigilant legal defense.

don't use them (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about a year ago | (#44874537)

I deleted my FB, google+ and twitter accounts in June. Things are better without them.
Websites that want me to login with social and force that will get fake accounts if these things persist. They add nothing.

You young people and your strange ideas (3, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | about a year ago | (#44874539)

How can pseudonymity â" one of the key foundations of early internet communities â" be saved?"

No it wasn't one of the key foundations of early internet communities. Quite the opposite in fact - it was seen as a great threat to Internet communities. Lemme cut and paste a post I made last year...

Once upon a time, when I first got on the Internet (late 1980s), there was no anonymity. Sysadmins voluntarily adhered to a policy where each user's online identity and their real identity were linked [] . If someone ever found a way to break this link, it was considered a bug [] which needed to be fixed. (Also notice that all the people in those old USENET posts are using their real names.) This system was staunchly enforced by admins who believed the net would devolve into chaos and rampant misbehavior if people were allowed to post anonymously.

There were a few people running their own servers who bucked the trend, but it wasn't until AOL joined USENET [] that pseudonyms became a fact of life on the Internet. AOL allowed each account to have up to 5 usernames, ostensibly so family members sharing a single AOL account could each have their own ID. Obviously these extra usernames were quickly used to make pseudonyms by people wishing to post things online anonymously, which was good for free speech. But not surprisingly, spam was invented shortly thereafter.

All that's happening now is that the pendulum is starting to swing the away from complete anonymity as netizens struggle to figure out the best balance between real names and pseudonyms. The people at the pro-anonymity extreme won't like it, just like the people at the pro-real-name extreme didn't like it in the early 1990s. But as with most things in life the best balance is probably somewhere in between.

She's the liability (1)

tommeke100 (755660) | about a year ago | (#44874547)

Some collegues and friends know about her fetish? The truth is basically already out there since multiple people can already connect the dots.
As for the full story, yes I'm sure you can still maintain your pseudonymity. I don't think many people in the online fetish scene will display their real name, so some service will always cater to that need.
Of course the big data aggregators like google/facebook/ad services and your local ISP will probably be able to connect the dots as well, but that's why it's pseudo-anonymity and not full fledged anonymity.

I never user Faceook Login (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44874553)

I never use Facebook or Linked In login, ever.

If a site wants me to, I go elsewhere. No exceptions.

I will also not connect my FB or linked in account to my cell phone, which include installing their amazingly intrusive applications.

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