Created on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 00:00
Written by Samuel Yeoh
In recent months, a new social networking site by Google known as Google Plus, or more simply as Google+, has came onto the online scene. Interestingly, Google+ wants users to employ their real name for their accounts. And to enforce this, any suspicious names registered will be subjected to verification.
For a company that espouses the mantra ‘Do no Evil’ and has previously expressed grief against censorship, such a position is a strange about-turn. After all, It is essentially an attempt to remove anonymity on Google’s social networking platform, in exchange for potential profits that the company may gain from garnering such information.
This brings the value of identity as well as of anonymity on the Internet to the fore. Whether we realize it or not, our names are important commodities even on the online web. It helps crafty marketers to design new ways to access our wallets and allows cunning troublemakers to invade our privacy.
Unlike in real life where your identity is mostly revealed only at physical locations you have visited and provided some form of information, your online profile is accessible all over the world just by a few clicks of the mouse. The potential for abuse is hence enormous. Does it then not make sense that one should guard your online identity more closely and enjoy some degree of anonymity?
For proponents of Internet identity, the common argument is the need for accountability, especially in the arena of public discussion. While it is true that there may be lesser instances of hostility and malice should everyone be required to use their real names, it doesn’t erase the underlying fact that other bad intentions, whether expressed or unexpressed, may arise as such as well.
For example, on the topic of political censorship, online anonymity allows the free discussion of sensitive issues. If somewhere along the way someone decides to post immature or senseless remarks, the onus is on the sensible ones to ignore them.
In many ways, an online pseudonym still behaves like a real world name. While it protects the identity of the user behind the screen, it still has to go through the rules of real world sociology. Pseudonyms automatically acquire social rank by the nature of their online activity, their connections, and their comments. Would you respect an online persona that only spouts trite vulgarities and nonsense? Guess not. That’s your accountability for you.
On the flip side, how many of us have met with cases of stalkers or identity thefts? If we do not hang out our names in front of our house doors in real life, how can we be expected to do so online? Let’s not give every curious sleuth wannabe the chance to peek into our private lives. If there’s something that needs investigating, leave that to the rightful authorities, I'd say.
In conclusion, my opinion is that online anonymity is a precious private resource that we should safeguard against the greed of commercialism and prying eyes. Companies should learn to respect that instead of forcing it down our throats from their high horses.