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Google CEO Schmidt: No Anonymity Is The Future Of Web

Schmidt's message at the Techonomy Conference was that anonymity is a dangerous thing and governments will demand an end to it.

By Ms. Smith on Mon, 08/09/10 - 9:21pm.

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. The focus of the conference was how technology is changing and can change society. Schmidt's message was that anonymity is a dangerous thing and governments will demand an end to it.

In an video interview with Julia Boorstin, CNBC Correspondent, Schmidt stated (starting at 5:13):

"Privacy is incredibly important," Schmidt stated. "Privacy is not the same thing as anonymity. It's very important that Google and everyone else respects 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."

Whether it was a Freudian slip or a simple misstatement, Schmidt is correct; it is not obvious that if you are anonymous, you are therefore likely to commit a "terrible, evil crime."

Anonymity equaling a future heinous act seems to be the direction some online security experts are headed. The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace proposes to do away with anonymous multiple identities in favor of one real identity. Part of the reasoning behind one trusted identity is to do away with crime. But isn't this the same logic of anonymity breeding anti-social behavior and criminals?

According to ReadWriteWeb, Schmidt said of anti-social behavior, "The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity. 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."

Since Google's CEO has proclaimed the future of the web is no anonymity, does that make it a fact? If we keep hearing that privacy is dead and long buried, how long before we accept that anonymity is an anti-social behavior and a crime?

Security expert Bruce Schneier suggests that we protect our privacy if we are thinking about it, but we give up our privacy when we are not thinking about it.

Schneier wrote, "Here's the problem: The very companies whose CEOs eulogize privacy make their money by controlling vast amounts of their users' information. Whether through targeted advertising, cross-selling or simply convincing their users to spend more time on their site and sign up their friends, more information shared in more ways, more publicly means more profits. This means these companies are motivated to continually ratchet down the privacy of their services, while at the same time pronouncing privacy erosions as inevitable and giving users the illusion of control."

The loss of anonymity will endanger privacy. It's unsettling to think "governments will demand" an end to anonymous identities. Even if Schmidt is Google's CEO, his message of anonymity as a dangerous thing is highly controversial. Google is in the business of mining and monetizing data, so isn't that a conflict of interest? Look how much Google knows about you now.

Bruce Schneier put it eloquently, "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."

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