Anonymity and information privacy are hot issues. Events like the Clinton server/email controversy, the Ashley Madison breach (releasing what was assured to be “anonymous” information), the Target data breach, and countless others, have put protection of personal information at the forefront of public debate.
Today, 50% of internet users are concerned about the amount of their personal information that is available online (a significant jump from 33% in 2009), but only 37% percent of internet users actually believe that it’s possible to use the internet anonymously.
Is it actually possible to be completely anonymous online? I wasn’t sure, so I asked an expert. He said, “well you could use a web-based proxy, connect to a proxy server or VPS, and then use a VPN service like Private Internet Access to TOR into another service and then VPN into another ISP. Then, setup an Amazon cloud server with a prepaid credit card that you purchased with cash. Secure Shell (SSH) to the cloud server, and tunnel all traffic from your computer through the Amazon VPN. But that is still no guarantee you’ll remain anonymous.”
Sounds complicated huh? And even then, it’s not a surefire way to remain anonymous. Someone with the right brains and resources could still probably find some information to link back to you. So why do it?
Well, it turns out that the availability of information online has actually harmed quite a few people. 21% of people have reported that their email/social networking accounts have been compromised before. 11% of people have reported that vital information like their Social Security Number, credit card number, or bank account information has been stolen.
Anonymity is still, however, a very polarizing subject. Indeed, most people can’t decide whether anonymity is a good or bad thing. For example, 86% of people in a survey by The Guardian held both positive and negative opinions of anonymity simultaneously. Perhaps this is because many people associate online anonymity with illicit activity, and yet the same people also want to keep their information out of the hands of other online persons.
So, who exactly are these persons we are trying to avoid? Interestingly, advertisers are almost as feared as hackers and criminals when it comes to gathering private information. And, despite the best efforts of Snowden and others, the government and the police were the two least-feared parties in the survey.
Many people believe that tools for online anonymity like Tor are used only be a select few, usually assumed to be hackers or Silk Road sellers. In actuality, between Tor, I2P and Freenet, there are more than 1,050,000 total “anonymous” daily users. In fact, almost everyone (86% of people) has taken steps to protect their information online and hide their identity online.
What information do people care most about protecting online? Of the items surveyed, email privacy was the most important, occupying the 1st and 2nd spots. People regard the time of day that they browse the internet as the least important of the items surveyed. Given that email often provides access to password resets on other potentially more damaging online portals (like bank accounts), it makes sense that people would want to protect the content of their emails.
The internet has changed the way we write, communicate, relax and more. Now, it seems, the internet has changed our perceptions about information security. The 17% increase in the number of internet users who are concerned about the amount of their personal information available online over the last 5 years will most likely only increase as more Ashley Madisons, Targets, and politicians suffer (or sometimes create) private information breaches. It would seem that anonymity is becoming mainstream.
How do your anonymity preferences compare to the population as a whole? Why is anonymity important to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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www.dailydot.com/technology/tor-freenet-i2p-anonymous-network/ www.pewinternet.org/2013/09/05/anonymity-privacy-and-security-online/ www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/21/privacy-tools-censorship-online-anonymity-tools www.itproportal.com/2014/10/17/remember-how-the-whisper-app-was-completely-anonymous-apparently-not-so-much/ www.cs.cmu.edu/~kiesler/publications/2013/why-people-seek-anonymity-internet-policy-design.pdf