Future of the Internet Symposium: How can we create even better incentives?

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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    “How can we preserve the ability to remain anonymous online while reaping all the benefits that an embedded identity system can provide?”

    The solution is both obvious and difficult: You just have to make sure your online identity does not get associated with your meatspace identity. The problem, of course, is how to do that. Even if you don’t use your real name or anything of that nature, if your online friends are your meatspace friends then all it takes is for one of them to let slip something identifiable and a dedicated investigator or a sufficiently sophisticated algorithm can put it together.

    If you want to fix anonymity online it is going to require changing what happens in meatspace. We need to improve anonymity in general. The problem is that everything is set up to link itself to your “identity” (singular) but without any necessity for that. For example, when you get a credit card, you have to give the credit card company your name, address, social security number, phone number, etc. Then when you use your credit card, you have to provide half of that information to the merchant, ostensibly because your name, billing address and phone number are “secret” information that can be used to verify that you are the cardholder. (Never mind that giving it to everybody like that means that that information is really not all that secret.)

    The fact is the merchant has no need for any of that information — all they need to know is your card number, whether you have sufficient available credit for the purchase you’re making, and to have some mechanism to verify that you are authorized to make purchases with this card. There is no doubt in my mind that we can find a better way of authenticating cardholders than whether they can recite the cardholder’s billing information. Which means we could deprive merchants of that information and improve anonymity substantially.

    Even the way we do credit reporting is preposterous, not least because it’s far too easy to fraudulently get a copy of someone’s credit report without their knowledge or permission. Why have reporting agencies when we have creditors with computers? Have the prospective debtor swipe all the cards in his wallet on the creditor’s card reader, providing only the name of the creditor for that card and your account numbers with them (which is all that should be on such a card in the first place). Then the prospective creditor’s computers can contact your other creditors’ computers and inquire whether your accounts are in good standing and whether that creditor believes the account holder to be a good credit risk. They wouldn’t even need your name — and it inherently provides them with a list of other creditors to notify and potentially assets to attach if you default.

    Obviously there are still reasons why the government wants creditors to collect personal information from you, but the point is that there is no inherent reason why they need anything more, initially, than whether your are a good credit risk and, thereafter, your account number and authentication information. Swiss banks have operated numbered accounts for a very long time without any problems (for the bank or its customers, anyway).

    But I digress. The point is that an alternative method of credit reporting where existing creditors’ computers attest to your credit worthiness without personally identifying you, rather than having credit reporting agencies to whom a prospective creditor must submit your full identifying information in order to get the same attestation, is much preferred. It would keep your “identity” and moreover your “secret,” identity-theft enabling, anonymity-busting personal information out of the hands of prospective landlords, prospective employers, etc. who may either misuse it themselves or fail to take adequate precautions to prevent it from being disclosed to others who will.

  2. Many meatspace people have no interest in being part of cyberspace. They are afraid of cyberspace. Their main interest is using cyberspace to advertise their meatspace status.