Over on Psychochild’s Blog, Brian Green has a fantastic four part series exploring the relationship between privacy and anonymity, and arguing against the idea that removing anonymity would address the problem – both because this means giving up privacy, which we value, and because it is not practical to do so. Highly recommended reading for game designers and anyone interested in online abuse and privacy:
- Part 1 looks at the relationship between privacy and anonymity, and the key questions about anonymity.
- Part 2 examines the harms entailed in removing anonymity.
- Part 3 makes the case for the impossibility for enforcing public identity and restricting anonymity.
- Part 4 looks at dealing with the problems of online behaviour, and the changes that might be required.
I shall respond in full in about two weeks time with a piece entitled Lessons from the MUD, but in the meantime a few quick remarks.
Brian’s example that we are now used to people pulling their phones out all the time in the final part sits badly with me; I do not think this an example of a cultural shift to deal with technology consequences so much as I think we have instituted our rudeness and now accept a higher degree of impoliteness towards each other. The same thing happens in big cities, of course: we learn to be less polite. I do not think this specific example upholds the point Brian wishes to make, in terms of adapting to technology, although I do agree with him that this adaptation both needs to and will happen. We just need to be careful in recognising the active role required in shaping norms.
At several points, Brian trots out the example of people who need to protect their identity. I do not think this is as strong an objection as he and others do; his more general arguments about everyone’s need for privacy are much stronger in my view, in particular because they apply to everyone. If we thought public identities would solve all the problems, the need for some people to adjust their permanent identity online would be a manageable issue. But as Brian nicely outlines, public identities aren’t a guaranteed fix. This is not even a likely fix, as Brian elaborates very clearly in part 3.
We need to be having these discussions, and I am enormously grateful to Brian for wading in here, and making such a thorough report on the issues. I heartily recommend you check out all four parts.