Anonymity, Inc.

Steve Baker says anonymity is the next big industry. I don’t know whether it’s an industry, but there is value to add there. What do newspaper job classifieds and headhunters really provide but anonymizing? In the new world of jobs and resumes where buyer and seller can come together frictionlessly, there is some need for a trusted agent to act as the anonymizer (which may be newspapers’ last hope to keep a foot in that marketplace, if they figure it out and act quickly). Ditto personals, until you’re ready to meet and mate. Ditto some other commercial and informational transactions. It’s harder to provide anonymity in a distributed world but it still had value.

: LATER: Michael Zimmer says in the comments: ” ‘Pseudonymity’ is probably a more attainable goal.” Right, he is. And now let’s butcher that into a verb: pseudonymizing?

  • Michael Zimmer

    “Pseudonymity” is probably a more attainable goal.

  • Engagment is the way forward here and we talk about creating win wins for business and customers in our book Communities Dominate Brands Or put another way how can businesses create a less adversarial approch to marketing and business?

    Alan Mitchell in his book The New Bottom Line also talks about a very different type of frictionless marketing.

    As to defending our anonynimity well – thats up to us as individuals and as communities to defend that right.

    But I believe that Big Brother will be defested by the supremacy of the community.

  • Not Anonymity, but Anonymous Accountability.

  • I like pseudonymity… where you have a pseudo identity forming out of a series of social gestures… as opposed to anonymity where you have individual gestures coming from a faceless crowd. Who in the world should like this. Historically… this was always a situation of fear in the face of an authority… talking without showing your face. A pseudo identity can be socially functional for establishing relationships… while keeping a selected level of privacy.

  • Bob Stratton

    Alas, making money in the privacy business is challenging on several fronts; just ask Austin Hill at Zero Knowledge. Safeweb, in whom my previous shop invested, came out alright, but after reinventing themselves into a VPN appliance. Lance Cottrell at is making a good show of it, perhaps due to his lead in addressing my item #1, which says that:

    From a technical perspective, your anonymity service is only useful if you also have 3 million other users with whom to mix any client’s traffic. (You may choose a different number, but it’s a key issue.)

    Secondly, you face some cultural biases that are largely unconscious, but severe in their impact. For example, in the U.S. it usually only takes one mention of the “four horsemen” of Internet malevolence (drug dealers, pedophiles, money launderers, and terrorists) to give prospective investors and clients pause. These same prospects will grouse privately all day and night about their perceived lack of privacy, but they haven’t thought about how to value their privacy in the context of a greater society/environment/marketplace.

    I agree that pseudonymity along with strong reputation systems would be a boon to mankind and business. I fear that our failures to date have largely been driven by attempts to manage the process purely through technology. As a long-time security professional, I have come to realize that this never works. All of the Internet firewalls in the world won’t save you if you don’t train your staff properly, and have security policies with buy-in from your senior management. There’s a reason I don’t care much about credit card fraud – there’s a statutory $50 liability limit if I follow certain procedures in the event of loss.

    That’s not a technical solution, but it works pretty well. Whether you’re a Liberty Alliance or Passport/Hailstorm fan, or simply like eBay’s feedback system, my contention is that you’lll never have a coherent broadly-applicable environment within which to operate anonymously/pseudonymously unless it is comprised of both well thought-out legislative/regulatory elements, serious marketing communications and technical tools for identity management and reputation tracking.

  • Hi. I referred to this entry in my blog, to which I linked. Feel free to check it out and leave a comment.

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