The Good Bad and Ugly of Anonymity

So most of us might like some level of anonymity.  Browsing facebook to see what your hold high school classmates (or your ex?) have been up to, do you really want them to know you were lurking on their pages?  That’s pretty tame.  There are good reasons for the longevity of this thing called the “secret ballot” — who you vote for is entirely your private business, and nobody except yourself needs or should know.


It is also well known that anonymity makes nasty people bold:  while it is amazing in a way that anyone actually believes their behavior on the conventional internet is actually anonymous, it does not stop shockingly bad and hateful comments.   Some sites have switched to requiring comments to be made under their “real names”.    Facebook in 2010 was seen as a “hate engine” where trolls could insult anybody and everybody.   To completely eliminate anonymity could lead to a police state where an oppressive regime could punish anyone speaking out against official policy, whether it is an unjust law, illegal government actions, or taking a position against vaccination.  Whether you’re for or against, should be up to you, and you should have an option to remain anonymous.

Cash is anonymous:

India took a bold step to eliminating the anonymity of high-denomination currency just recently.  The rationale is described as a tool to eliminate the shadow economy that is not accounted for:

“For us in government, this is a blessing … Corruption, black money, and counterfeit notes had become so rampant in India’s social fabric, that even honest people were brought to their knees.”

In some financial areas, the idea of “KYC”, or “know your customer” is normal due diligence, even an ethical obligation to the industry and government, or society, since it is directed against illegal activities such as money laundering (in support of criminal activities), corruption, bribery.   Is your bank helping ISIL and terrorists?  If they don’t know their customers, how can one tell?

Some privacy advocates like the anonymity of Bitcoin “cryptocurrencies” which in theory can transfer currency value from one to another without identifying the payer, and can be used by criminals on the “dark web”.   It is standard practice, in line with KYC requirements, that in order to purchase Bitcoin, even with cash, at a “Bitcoin ATM”, a mobile number is often required as a “verification” step early in the purchase process.  The accompanying video showing how easy it is, also seems to require your fingerprint for that particular brand of ATM.

This one below requires your mobile number, a photo of your face, your palmprint, and your government issued ID.   Ironic, isn’t it, to give up so much of your personal information to get anonymous currency!   If you watch this video to the end, you will find that the ATM took the bitcoin from the wallet, and after 24 hours, still did not produce the cash in return.  Buyer and seller, beware!

Bottom line — anonymity has all of the good, bad, and ugly faces, and we all need to decide and talk about what the right balance is, among all of them.