The Death and Quiet Rebirth of Internet Anonymity - 1

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The Death and Quiet Rebirth of Internet Anonymity - 1
About 15 years ago, I made the conscious decision to never put anything on the Internet that I wouldn't want my mom, boss, or mistress to read. And I've got to say, with one or two minor exceptions, an F-bomb here or there, all these years later I'm pretty clean.

Believe me, I'm no saint, and I'm as frustrated as you. There's literally a dozen times in any given week when I want to spout off on something, against something, or take down some douchebag on some comments section or social network somewhere.

But I know we're all traceable now. So instead of Hitlering a comment section on 7 Reasons Why the New Arrested Development Will Destroy the Economy, I just write a lot.

Just don't mistake my mercy for weakness. I hold long, elaborate grudges.

So as a result, you very rarely get to see the real me on the Internets. I'm sure Facebook is close and I probably publish way too much there, but that's mostly stuff about my wife and kids. So big deal, you know I love my wife and kids. And if Facebook wants to laughingly attempt to show me ads based on my love for my wife and kids, then so be it. I'm not even sure I know where Facebook ads are on the page.

In a lot of ways, the anonymous Internet, which died an unheralded death with the onset of the Social Revolution, was better than the Me Internet. Yes, it had been easier to flame someone from behind a curtain, but... who cares. It's the Internet. Knowing I could never find out who just pwned me in a comment section probably saved me a lot of time and money on elaborate revenge.

But even with this self-imposed very stringent amount of information control, there's a lot of Me data building up on the Internet.

What I'm talking about is the data that's collected for me, in my name, with my consent and my knowledge. It's the fuel behind the Internet of Things.

If you were to hack my CardioTrainer account (the poor man's RunKeeper, but in my mind, it's better), you'd know how much I run or, if you study it, where I'll be at certain times of the day, perhaps to run over me with your car.

My Jawbone will tell you how much I sleep, how much of it is deep sleep (a lot), and when I go to bed and wake up. Feel free to ax murder me between those times.

If you got into my Netflix, you'd know what I watch, when I watch it, my penchant for chick flicks and Ninjago, and what my wife and kids watch.

A little investigative snooping will even uncover the fact that I terminated that account back to the stone age when they released Quikster. Well, plus I wrote about it. Twice.

These are all devices I own and have granted access to collect the data that is me. The reason I let the applications know so much about me is that they offer me something tangible in return for my information - a service of some sort. But what they should really be doing is using that data to make me better.

CardioTrainer - How do I rank in my age, gender, and weight group in terms of distance and speed?

Netflix - What do you have that isn't crap?

And believe me, they want to answer those questions. Some are terrible at it, some are excellent at it. Some have just started.

In education alone, the trickle of data that is now being made available has spawned all kinds of progress on making our kids smarter. It can do more if we can convince more people to get over their fear that someone, somewhere will discover that their kid got a C in Spanish, leaving them ineligible for the upper echelon of private universities.

Better to dull their future in reality than potentially screw in up in perception, I guess.

My point is, sooner or later, no matter how vigilant we are at keeping our information off the grid, so to speak, we eventually find the incentive that makes us give up the goods, and as we progress down the Big Data path, we'll want our PlotWatts to compare our cooling costs to our neighbor's cooling costs, our Mints to compare our Taco Bell expenditures to a healthy person's Taco Bell expenditures, and our Match.coms to tell us if we're hot or not.

Again, love the wife and kids.

In order for us to be able to answer these questions, that data has to be collected freely from tons of people. And with the death of natural anonymity over the last few years, an artificial anonymity has to be created.

Here's how.

One: Providers of these services are going to have to be more vigilant about anonymizing and protecting the data. As a recent Facebook slip made very clear, an app called Bang with Friends probably shouldn't let all your Facebook friends know you have it.

Two: Privacy, as enabled by misguided policies and unenforceable laws, is going to have to give way to common sense. See the first sentence of this article.

Look, I hate big brother as much as the next guy, maybe even more so. But at the same time, as long as idiots shoot naked pictures of themselves over SnapChat without knowing what a screencap is, we'll have to maintain privacy for them, and scream and wail when that privacy is breached -- ban apps, enact laws, enforce restrictions, and do everything possible to make sure your grandmother doesn't give her Social to that Nigerian prince.

Everything, that is, except teach her what the Internet is.

My point is, regardless of our collective inner-libertarian, this is an unstoppable force, and society is not an immovable object. We're about to experience a new wave of things telling our secrets, and telling us not just about the story of us, but actually suggesting improvement based on the story of those most like us.

This is the promise of the Internet of Things. It's disruptive, and it's what the Internet should be for.