Sensible Anonymity on the Internet
Abstract: This paper is an analysis of the anonymity of Internet users. Specifically, what are the benefits and disadvantages created by anonymity on the Internet, and how can the disadvantages be lessened without adversely affecting the benefits?
The rapid growth of the Internet’s popularity is staggering. In 1990 few people outside the research community knew of it, and today it is estimated that there are more than 300 million Internet users worldwide (1). It is unlikely that any previous notable form of media or technology (radio, telephony, automobiles, or television, for instance) gained such widespread usage so quickly. When one adds up the cost of a computer, modem, ISP1, busying a phone line and the time it takes to download/upload email/websites it seems obvious that it is not cheap or easy to surf the net. The anonymity that the Internet provides its users is a key factor in why the Internet has become so incredibly popular so quickly. The benefits of anonymity on the Internet outweight the disadvantages, however something should needs to be done to reduce or eliminate the disadvantages without adversely impeding the advantages.
The ability to have your own anonymous website (geocities.yahoo.com) with an anonymous email address to go with it (mail.yahoo.com or www.hotmail.com) is extremely alluring to the general public. No programming ability is required when programs such as Microsoft FrontPage® and Adobe GoLive® help you create webpages using a simple word-processor-like interface. Formerly, one had to be an established, professional journalist, author or artist to have relatively any chance to publicly express your views, opinions and/or creativity. With the advent of the Internet, anybody with access to a computer can say or do anything they feel like and do it anonymously.
This anonymity has many benefits. The ability to send anonymous emails and create anonymous websites makes it much easier to whistle-blow illegal or offensive actions without fear of suppression as well as for individuals to express contrary political views in parts of the world where they may be persecuted for openly expressing their ideas. For instance, “online anonymity allowed Kosovars, Serbs and others caught up in the Balkan war to send news about the conflict to the rest of the world without taking the potentially life-threatening risk of revealing their identities” (2). Also, anonymous access to online resources encourages people to seek information about or help for problems that they might otherwise be embarrassed about, such as alcoholism, drug-usage, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, or information about safe-sex. In a very broad sense, anonymity encourages free speech and the flow of information, which must be acknowledged as a good thing in almost all situations.
However, this anonymity has it disadvantages as well. If anyone can send a message or...