Saturday, December 8, 2012

Anonymity and assisting society

Topic - Determine the extent that anonymity has helped better society, industry, and individuals. Does the malicious use of anonymity outweigh the positive benefits it provides?

Anonymity benefits society by easing the burden of charitable giving. Often, once a donation is made to a charity or such, that entity will continue to regularly solicit donations. I encountered this just after college. A small donation, via check, to St. Jude's Children's Hospital and I was receiving regular solicitation requests for years. By donating behind the screen of anonymity, generous patrons can give without regard for future communications. Kay, Salveggio, and Guess (2008) write that a rabbi from the 1300s, Maimonides, placed the label of second highest level of charity on giving anonymously to anonymous recipients.

The ability to perform acts of good, such as charitable giving, without ramifications unfortunately extends to acts of malice. The right to the privacy of ones behavior must be weighed against the right of others to be free from annoyance and danger. The impunity that one gains by anonymity enables great wrongs and so "traceable anonymity" (Kay, Salveggio, & Guess, 2008, pp 70-9) provides a good balance. It allows us to gain the privacy benefits of anonymity, but provides society a safeguard against overly malicious behavior; though only if the trace-ability is limited and guarded itself. An ISP that will turn over account information when presented with a valid court order (and only to a court order) provides reasonable traceable anonymity.

Kabay, M. E., Salveggio, E., & Guess, R. (2008) Anonymity and Identity in Cyberspace. In Bosworth, et al (Eds.), Computer security handbook. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

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