One of the most effective ways to protect privacy is to remain anonymous
or to falsify information — by using a fake name, for example.
Anonymity and pseudonymity are important social customs that empower
people to disappear, hide themselves, or hide certain attributes of
themselves from other individuals or from institutions. These personal
practices foster privacy in terms that precisely fit the desires of the
people using them.
There are many legitimate reasons to refuse to be identified, and people
do it all the time. Many people refuse to identify themselves to telephone
callers until the caller is identified. The victim of an unwanted social
advance may give a fake name or telephone number to avoid future contact.
Victims of stalking may want to hide their actions and whereabouts by not
revealing their names. Critics of government officials often use anonymity to
avoid reprisal. And people who do not trust an online
business to be tactful may give fake e-mail addresses or other information.
The uses of anonymity and pseudonimity are as numerous as the
interactions people have.
Anonymity and pseudonymity should not be regarded as signs of wrongdoing,
but anonymity and pseudonymity are very commonly in the arsenal of those who go beyond
protecting privacy to misrepresent themselves while taking advantage of others.
The government and commercial sectors respond to anonymity and pseudonymity
quite differently. Businesses tend to entice consumers to release accurate
personal information. Consumers may continue to refuse sharing information if
the enticements are not enough. Governments, on the other hand, may threaten
or prosecute anonymous or pseudonymous people.
To allow individuals to protect their own senses of privacy, governments
and institutions should minimize their interference with anonymity and pseudonymity.
There is a difficult balance to strike, however. They must do this consistent
with preventing genuine wrongful acts that anonymity and pseudonymity
the Internet Web page, by William Knowles
List's Archive of Anonymity and Pseudonymity Resources (List is Invite-Only)
Court Establishes First-Ever Protections For Online Critics of Public Officials,
ACLU press release (November 15, 2000)
Protect Your Internet Privacy . . . by Lying by Ben Charny, ZDNet News (August 22,