October 04, 2010
Online Anonymity Be Gone: What To Do About It
Anonymity online is eroding one inch at a time and sadly, too many people are not aware of how much of their data is no longer private.
Summation's Auren Hoffman has an excellent piece on anonymity suggesting that most people think that no one is monitoring their behavior and attaching it to their name and address. You think or at least hope that websites, ad networks, ad exchanges, widgets, outside analytics services, etc. -- should not know who you are nor should they be tracking your behavior unless you sign up or log in. AND, give permission. Listen up Facebook and others who are not being as transparent as they should in an always-on world.The post is so comprehensive and so spot-on that I've reposted some excerpts below.
"In a better world with sufficient anonymity online, your search history and the sites you visit should not be matched back to personally-identifiable information (like your name, address, email, etc.) so it cannot be stolen, used to discriminate against you, or subpoenaed by the government.
In online advertising, there are various standards for what constitutes sufficient online anonymity. But unless companies adhere to the highest standard and increase awareness to consumers, internet users may think their browsing behavior is being tied to their identity and may subsequently dramatically decrease internet consumption and be less likely to experiment with new online services. In short, the lack of available anonymity could stifle the online economy and all the innovation happening on the web."
"The key to protecting anonymity is to make it technically impossible – not just contractually prohibited or difficult – to tie an internet user to their name and address when they are not explicitly logged in. This doesn’t mean that websites and third party services can’t know something interesting about you. They might know that you are a woman who lives in the New York area, plays tennis, enjoys Settlers of Catan, is in market for a trip to Italy, and drives a hybrid.
This is good because they can use this data to give you a more personalized experience: content you like, better customer service, more targeted ads, and less spam. But they should not know that it is you."
They also talk about your “Machine ID” which is A Machine ID is like your computer’s fingerprint that can usually uniquely identify you. "It is the information that your computer may send to the sites you visit, like your IP address, browser configuration, “clock skew” (the millisecond difference in the clock on your machine and that on the server), and more."
Stored cookies is one part of it; they note that you can clear your cookies and even using a unique ID, but that is only one small piece of it. He also notes that using unique IDs also means people may no longer be anonymous. "A more privacy-centric solution is to store all the segments of a person directly on a cookie. The data can be encrypted and secured so that only the cookie-placer can access it. "
His parting words hits it home and is an important lesson for the geek innovators on the 'left' coast. "Most Silicon Valley companies come from the perspective that their technology is sacrosanct. Years of engagement with our web users, customers, partners, privacy experts and advocates (including our own privacy advisory board), have made it clear that investing in a safe infrastructure where users have the presumption of anonymity will ensure that the Internet will continue to grow and stay vibrant."
Thanks Auren for your insightful perspective. The full post can be found here.
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