[Dave Birch] It’s all for the kiddies. There’s a terrible problem out there on the interweb: there are people who aren’t children who are pretending to be children and there are children who are pretending to be not children. Therefore, something must be done.

MySpace is now encouraging users to post their real names to their profiles. This is quite a shift – like many sites, MySpace used to refer to a ’screen name’ rather than ‘real name’.

[From Privacy Value Networks » Blog Archive » The danger of ‘real names’?]

Well, it might be considered an inconvenience that your children’s identities should be disclosed to the entire world online, but it’s for the greater good, right? And if we know who the children are online, then we can protect them, and help retailers to avoid accidentally selling knives to teenagers, and that’s a good thing too.

Child-safety activists charge that some of the age-verification firms want to help Internet companies tailor ads for children. They say these firms are substituting one exaggerated threat — the menace of online sex predators — with a far more pervasive danger from online marketers like junk food and toy companies that will rush to advertise to children if they are told revealing details about the users.

[From Ping – Online Age Verification for Children Brings Privacy Worries – NYTimes.com]

Perhaps this whole anonymity vs. absonymity argument around online identities is actually important, and perhaps we should be doing some thinking about it instead of leaving it to people (eg, Ministers) who don’t really understand the problem or the solution.

Now, as well all know, identity theft is out of control and some of that identity theft is potentially very serious because it’s not about money but about “grooming” children and such like.

Online identity firm Garlik’s cybercrime report claims that more than 3.5 million online crimes were committed in the UK last year. The majority of crimes related to fraud and abusive or threatening e-mails. There was an 8% drop in online identity theft and sexual offences fell 2%.

[From BBC NEWS | Technology | Cybercrime wave sweeping Britain]

Look. No-one, least of all me, wants to underplay the potential for serious problems to occur in an unmediated and anonymous medium where children and adults, intelligent and stupid, honest and criminal are all mashed-up. We want “society” to protect the vulnerable, but unthinking reactions and simplistic blanket reponses are going to make the problem worse, not better, and forcing my children to reveal their names is not a way forward.

The opposite of anonymity is not absonymity and the opposite of non-disclosure is not full disclosure. If I register for some online service through a trusted (or, more importantly, legally liable) party then they can provide an OpenID that will attest to whether I am over 18 without disclosing my bank details or that I am under 18 without disclosing my personal e-mail address or full name. Somehow we need to help the politicians and policymakers to understand that digital identity is not an online analogy of “real” identity but something more powerful. And, in so many ways, more useful.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto


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  2. See also: http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&taxonomyName=knowledge_center&articleId=9126040&taxonomyId=1&intsrc=kc_top
    “The report says that contrary to popular perceptions, the biggest risks that teenagers and younger children face on the Internet are cyberbullying and online harassment, not sexual predators. And the most frequent threats to children on social networking sites and the Internet in general come not from predatory older adults, but from their peers and young adults”

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