PS about anonymity


I got a couple of queries about my last blog. Yes, even on New Year’s Day. They raised points I should have dealt with in the text first time around. I didn’t, so here goes.

The digital token idea I set out has no necessary implications for how a user of such a token presents him or herself to the rest of the world when they go online.

If I wanted I could still carry on being Leeds007 on any and all web sites that allow you to choose your own log in name. If it so happened that I went to a new site where someone had already registered with that name the process would be interrupted and I would have to choose another one. Nothing new there then. On a site that insists on real names the process could be automated within whatever limits the site allowed.

The key point about digital tokens is not what you choose to call yourself in public. However, in the event something untoward happened everyone would know that witnesses or a potential miscreant could be rapidly identified and located. Obviously due process would have to be observed but the fact that everybody knew in advance that they could be traced would in and of itself be likely to reduce anti-social or criminal behaviour at a stroke.

Not every site would need to know or would care about people’s real or verified IDs. But all users of sites of that type would be aware of this, or ought to know it, and act accordingly.

In the end it would all come down to a question of trust. Do you trust the body or the company that issued the verified ID both in terms of how well they did the initial job of confirming the credentials of the person applying for a token and subsequently in keeping the details secure, only rendering them to external agencies once served with a proper notice, which is the same as the position we are in now anyway?

If we can create and trust Pay Pal we can create another body capable of winning our trust in these respects. However, someone has to want it to happen and that someone also needs the wherewithal to follow through.

In one way or another the abuse of anonymity lies behind most of the major or the enduring problems of the internet. Imagine if your email system would only accept emails from senders who possessed a token. Or if a site only allowed you to post images if you had a token. In other words, in a curious way, these tokens would replicate real life more accurately than the present arrangements.  It would introduce a much higher level of certainty into all of our online dealings.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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