An Anonymous World

“There are two types of people who like to remain anonymous: those who spread vicious lies, and those who tell the absolute truth.”

Internet Users
If asked to define the culture of the late 1990s and 2000s, one word would almost assuredly be ubiquitous in the descriptions: Internet. The Internet has integrated in one way or another with almost everyone in the United States and, to almost the same extent, in the world.

However, as integrated and interactive as we may be, it turns out that a large portion of those who use the Internet for any number of purposes don’t have a way to know who they are dealing with. To see this, one needs only look at the 5 most popular websites in the world (rankings courtesy of Alexa Web Search):
    1. Yahoo!
    2. Microsoft Network (MSN)
    3. Google
    4. YouTube
    5. MySpace

While sites serve a variety of purposes, they do have some commonalities, the most prominent of which is the ability to have an account on them (or one of their offshoots, as is the case with Google). These accounts allow you to create pseudonyms (in the form of user names), with which you can interact with the sites and with other users.

During the sign-ups for these sites, users are prompted to enter information such as their name, location, age, and email address.While this may seem like a good way to keep track of people, consider the following: I logged onto and created a new account (choosing a random user name), and claimed that I was a 35-year-old man named Harold Krill who resides in Beverly Hills, 90210. I then proceeded to create accounts at the four remaining sites using this information. As far as they were concerned, Andrew Schnorr doesn’t exist.

Perfectly AnonymousIt is then easy to see that, save for online baking sites and the like, someone could surf the Internet to its fullest without once using their real name. No matter what I did with my pseudonyms on the various web pages, I could never be shown to be anyone but Harold Krill, itself a pseudonym.

But is this a good thing? Is anonymity healthy for the Internet? This is an issue that dates back almost as far as the Internet itself. Some claim that it creates malicious web surfers, and can even be dangerous when used to cover for illegal activities. Others claim that there are psychological advantages to anonymity (such as being able to find one’s “true” self), and that, when it comes down to it, it is a constitutional right to be anonymous on the Internet.

In this report, I will give a brief history of anonymity on the Internet. The bulk of the report, however, will be discussing the various arguments, both positive and negative. I will then talk about some of the actions that governments, both domestic and foreign, have taken in response to anonymity. Finally, I will give my own take on the subject, based on the various arguments of others and my own beliefs.

In addition to the main report, there are polls, a quiz, and a guestbook on this site, which will see how much you know on the subject, and will allow you to give your own opinions on the subject of anonymity.

...And don’t worry; you don’t have to give me your personal information.

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©2007, Andrew Schnorr - University of California, Berkeley
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