No anonymity is the future of web in the opinion of Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt. He said many creepy things about privacy at the Techonomy Conference. His message was that anonymity is a dangerous thing and governments will demand an end to it.
Schmidt begins by saying “There was 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003,” Schmidt said, “but that much information is now created every 2 days, and the pace is increasing… People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them.”
“Privacy is incredibly important,” Schmidt stated. “Privacy is not the same thing as anonymity. It’s very important that Google and everyone else respect people’s privacy. People have a right to privacy; it’s natural; it’s normal. It’s the right way to do things. But if you are trying to commit a terrible, evil crime, it’s not obvious that you should be able to do so with complete anonymity. There are no systems in our society which allow you to do that. Judges insist on unmasking who the perpetrator was. So absolute anonymity could lead to some very difficult decisions for our governments and our society as a whole. In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”
I can certainly see his point of view, however, there’s already a surprising lack of anonymity on the Internet already. Schmidt himself has admitted that if Google looks at enough of your online messaging, combined with some AI and your location that they can predict where you are going to go. He’s also quoted as saying “Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos! People will find it’s very useful to have devices that remember what you want to do, because you forgot…But society isn’t ready for questions that will be raised as result of user-generated content.” That certainly doesn’t paint the picture of an anonymous Internet in need of government controlled online identities. In fact, take a look at how much Google knows about you now.
While Google’s mantra is “Don’t Be Evil”, you have to question the company’s motives. Google is NOT a search engine company, they are an advertising company. It doesn’t matter if they are generating revenue through targeted advertising, cross-selling or simply convincing their users to spend more time on their site and sign up their friends… they are an ad company. The more information shared publicly means more profits for Google. In short, Google would see a direct benefit in the form of higher revenue if there were less privacy on the Internet.
Bruce Schneier put it best, “If we believe privacy is a social good, something necessary for democracy, liberty and human dignity, then we can’t rely on market forces to maintain it.”