Sincerely, Anonymous

It can sometimes feel like the Digital World begins and ends with Privacy. Whether it is Google and its controversial ‘right to be forgotten’, or sites like Facebook experimenting on their users without consent, what we do on the internet and who gets to see it are huge issues that are being hotly debated the world over. Which is why the ability to remain anonymous has become the holy grail of Internet commerce. A slew of new Apps and updates of existing ones are boasting new and improved ways for its users to remain anonymous.

WHY IS ANONYMITY IMPORTANT ONLINE?

Do you want everyone to know everything about you? Yes, you may want a potential employer to see you handing out food at a soup kitchen, but what about that shot of you doing body shots at the bar last week?

Anonymity is necessary and important to everyone  who doesn’t want their entire life revealed with a simple Google search of their name. Picture a data broker out there logging everything you have ever said or shown interest in. Imagine that they then sell that information to the highest bidder, whether it be an advertiser, a corporation or a person.

On the other side of the spectrum, some people will only publish or say certain things if they can be guaranteed they won’t be prosecuted for it later. Remaining anonymous is a simple way to do that.

The ability to be anonymous has given items of amazing cultural importance to our society. Works by Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Zoe Margolis and others were all published under assumed names. For those Science Fiction geeks out there, how many fantastic female authors would have been ignored and never published in the 1960s if they weren’t able to use pseudonyms.

The first amendment to the US constitution recognises its importance and grants substantial protection to anonymous speech. Anonymity is important to everyone to some degree. In the tremors of the digital revolution, it can be a difficult thing to come by. Below are some examples of the anonymous features and apps that have recently come onto the market.

LEAK

Want to say whatever you want but don’t want to get caught?  The new service Leak may let you do it, all while keeping your identity a secret. The truth can hurt after all, and no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. Leak is a web service that lets you send anonymous emails to people. All you have to do is put in a recipients’ email, choose the type of relationship you have with that person and send off your message. Leaks are only seen by one person and are not broadcast publicaly – unless of course the person who received them wants to share it on their own social networking site. The Leak service is still pretty basic; you can’t send attachments or files. It does have a newsletter though, where users can receive the best Leaks of the week in their in-boxes.

WHISPER

Whisper is an anonymous social network. It’s done in the style of the PostSecret books of a few years ago. Instead of mailing in their secrets and the postcards being published in a book, Whisper does everything digitally. It allows people to express themselves anonymously. People type their secret on an image of their choice (as long as it follows regulations) and email the file in. It is then posted on the Whisper website.

With Whisper, you can anonymously share your thoughts and emotions with the world, and form lasting and meaningful relationships in a community built around trust and honesty. If you have ever had something too intimate to share on traditional social networks, simply share it on Whisper! —Whisper

Everything on Whisper is completely anonymous. They do not collect any personal information from users. The only search feature on the site is for topics, and not user profiles.

AirBNB

AirBNB is getting on the band wagon as well. It  has just announced a feature that will make all emails between hosts and renters anonymous.

In the past, after a booking was arranged, the the private email addresses of the landlord and the renter would be revealed to allow them to communicate directly. This direct communication  is necessary to arrange details like  parking and how to check in between the two parties. Usually however, after this single short term booking, users will likely never have any reason to communicate again. A lot of people were uncomfortable exchanging personal contact details with strangers. Now AirBnB will create temporary unique email addresses for each user in the conversation and forward these messages behind the scenes to the each user’s private email addresses. From the user’s point of view, nothing will change except that they won’t be able to see the counterpart’s personal email address.

We did this because some scammers like to get your personal email address and use it as part of their schemes. Anonymous email addresses will help us protect our community’s personal information from people who seek to abuse our system. Our existing security procedures help minimize the risk of these types of abuses, but we take your security seriously and we believe this new measure can do more to help fight fraud, scams, or phishing—AirBNB

FACEBOOK

Longtime King of the social Media scene, Facebook is touting new anonymous features as well. Back at F8 in April, Facebook’s annual developers conference, they announced a new feature that will allow users to log into Apps anonymously. What that means is that you can can check out an app you’re not sure you want to sign up for without sharing your personal information. This extends to other sites and Apps that are connected to Facebook as well.

So how many times would you want to sign in to an application, but you don’t necessarily want to share a lot of information with that app, but if you can do it anonymously, we think that can unlock of lot of different interactions and experiences that people want to have–Zuckerberg

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