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Kearns: Faking it Online

Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
7:12 am

In his Network World column this morning, Dave Kearns addressed the issue of online “pseudonymity” – the use of artificial or “fake” identities.  He indicated that the use of a fake identity or fake persona online doesn’t automatically make one a criminal.

I acknowledge Dave’s reasoning, but propose that any attempt to use a false identity with the intent to defraud, harm another person or otherwise do mischief is at least unethical, if not criminal.  I loathe the practice of people hiding behind the cloak of online anonymity or pseudonymity to do and say things they apparently do not have courage enough to do or say in the open. 

A long time ago, one of my engineering professors told us, in essence, “Always be proud enough of something you produce that you will gladly put your name on it.”  That is sage advice that bears repeating, even in the online world.

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2 Responses to “Kearns: Faking it Online”

    > I acknowledge Dave’s reasoning, but propose that
    > any attempt to use a false identity with the
    > intent to defraud, harm another person or
    > otherwise do mischief is at least unethical, if
    > not criminal.

    sorry for the long post….

    Fraud and mischief have been with us for millenia.
    Bad guys have always found ways to hide their identities and intentions, and always will.

    Unfortunately "complete openness regarding identity" isn’t the answer either.

    Today the question of individual rights to free speech; "safe" discussion of controversial topics and alternative viewpoints; privacy; safe "whistle blowing" and safety from anonymous accusations are butting heads with the internet.

    these are not easy issues to address.

    On the one hand are the Chinese bloggers publishing "uncensored news", fulon gong meetings, and human rights issues who "disappeared" .

    On the other hand are the recent cases of the child committing suicide over web-based harassment using fake identities (and the harassers claiming "everyone does it" as a defense).

    Individual Privacy use to be a simple matter of course: close your drapes and pay for an unlisted number. Even the Librarian would not divulge a list of the books you checked out.

    In recent years many "local" documents (including phone listings and property tax records) have become globally public. creating an incredible level of problems, including the ability of nearly anyone to electronically (or physically) stalk nearly anyone else.

    Hackers have only made the matter worse: according to one security specialist the only "safe" computer or database is one disconnected from the net, turned off, and behind mutiple locked doors. Keeping it’s existance a secret helps, but only until the secret is let out.

    Some people claim full disclosure is the answer: "I am doing nothing wrong, I don’t care that everyone knows everything about me".

    That individual has not yet
    – been targeted by tens of thousands of telemarketers calling at all hours tying up the private phone lines paid for privately
    – been targeted by fringe fanatic groups who disagree with your viewpoint
    – had their identity "stolen"
    – been stalked by a psycho (like the child mentioned above) intent on some sort of revenge
    – been targeted by a fascist gov’t for their activities such as attending a rally or checking out "Catcher in the Rye", "Mein Kampf" and Mao’s "Red Book"

    Further, that individual has never had to deal with the serious issues of securing corporate, banking, or private data; don’t even ask about securing government or military systems and data.

    The very last thing a security specialist or serious sys admin needs is to have their identity divulged in any way – i am available for offline discussion if desired.

    The citizens of Europe understand the absolute necessity for true rights of privacy. The days of the Nazi party and former Iron Curtain regimes are still recent!

    Further we seem to forget the FBI files and efforts to discredit such "extremists" as Dr. Martin Luther King .

    While France still operates under "guilty until proven innocent" Napoleonic laws, "innocent until proven guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt" is still the principle in the US. In the public eye, however "guilt by association" and "guilty due to press coverage" is one result of "lack of privacy".

    The issues we face now and in the future are enourmous and difficult.

    Comment by thatguy on December 10, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I am not arguing for mandatory complete disclosure. However, I will continue to express extreme disdain for those who abuse anonymity and pseudonymity to exploit and prey on other people. As for most issues, the solution to this issue doesn’t lie with technology or government control, but with individual morality.

    A partial solution is being explored by a project I am involved with at MIT – the Identity Embassy project – which involves an ability to validate a person’s real identity, while allowing that person to reveal only the minimum attributes of his or her identity necessary to facilitate a particular relationship or transaction. More to say about that in the future.

    Comment by Mark Dixon on December 10, 2008 at 11:59 am

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