In 1993, at the dawn of the Internet being widely available, Peter Steiner created a cartoon for The New Yorker magazine with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
The point of the cartoon was to show that the Net gave a veneer of anonymity to its on-line citizens. Once your computer was booted up and you logged on to your bulletin board system (BBS) of choice, you could be anyone you wanted to be.
Two decades later, I have this question, “Can one still be anonymous on the Internet?”
The answer is increasingly becoming, “No.”
Julia Agwin has come out with a book entitled Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. One of the assertions she makes is about all the information that data brokers know about your on-line activities and what that says about you. In addition, there is all the information that Google, Facebook, and all the other social websites amass about you (or that you give up willingly).
Then there is this case. Someone had created a humor account on Twitter that poked fun at Goldman Sachs, the investment banking firm. Calling itself @GSElevator, the account dished out gossip supposedly overheard in the elevator at Goldman Sachs. After three years of managing to keep the identity of @GSElevator a secret, the anonymous tweeter was finally unmasked. It’s not that important who the creator of @GSElevator is as it is my purpose in this post to ask, again, if one can still remain anonymous on the Net.
So I guess my shot at being a dog has passed.
March 7, 2014 Update
To the above list of stories, I would like to add the following article that semi-touches on my theme of remaining anonymous on the Net. The digital currency Bitcoin was said to have been invented by an individual named Satoshi Nakamoto. This person – or perhaps group of people – has never identified himself or herself and has thus remainined anonymous over the years.
Now comes the news that Newsweek magazine has uncovered the identity of Nakamoto.
Here’s my question. Has Newsweek actually proven my point that remaining anonymous on the Web in the 21st century is now impossible or has the magazine shred the privacy of a person who just happened to have the last name of Nakamoto?