Archive Monthly Archives: July 2016

Privacy Vs. Anonymity – To Know But Not To Know

     As the privacy/anonymity debate becomes a bigger, more popular debate, I keep hearing the two terms used interchangeably more often. They’re in the same realm, but still different concepts. Let’s clarify the difference between Privacy and Anonymity.

     Most of us don’t expect and aren’t looking for total anonymity. For example, most of us don’t expect anonymity regarding where we live. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone used telephone books. There were very few people who chose to have their phone number and street address unlisted. This we could say, is a matter of anonymity. If you don’t want me to know where you live, or if I drive by your house but it can’t be disclosed who lives there- this is anonymity.

     On the other hand, privacy really goes a little deeper. So for example, you may be fine with me knowing where you live, but that doesn’t mean that you want me to just walk in your front door, or peek through your windows. Maybe you don’t care about being anonymous, but you still expect privacy. There’s your name, phone number and street address in the phone book, but that doesn’t mean I can drive over and walk in the front door like I own the place. This is privacy.

     In modern culture, we have generally agreed to a degree of openness. Or a particular lack of anonymity. At least at times. If I want the Post Office to deliver a letter for me, I understand that I am asking a stranger to deliver this piece of mail to the addressee on my behalf. That doesn’t mean that I permit them to open it and examine the contents whatsoever, right? In fact, that’s a federal offense.

     What I find massively interesting, is that in the digital world, these concepts that we’ve grown accustomed to, have completely been turned upside down, inside out and thrown away. Gmail can (and does) open your email, examine its contents and does whatever it can do to literally profit from it. If you write an email to your mom telling her you're looking to say, buy a new blender, you might just start seeing ads for kitchen appliances the next time you’re on Google. But it’s ok because you signed up to use their service and they told you they could do this if/when they wanted. And when you clicked through, agreeing to their Terms of Use, you essentially told the mailman he could read your mail for his own reasons and to his own benefit.

This is a total lack of privacy and it is everywhere on the internet. Everywhere. And it’s getting worse at an alarming rate. Make sure you're in charge of what you wish to be seen and protect that which you wish to keep private. Some things are alright to be "out there." And some not.

To know, but not to know too much. Anonymity? Privacy?

You decide.​