Elon University

The 2010 Survey: Anonymous responses to a tension pair on the potential future of anonymity, identity and authentication

Responses to this 2020 scenario were assembled from Internet stakeholders in the2010 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Future of the Internet Survey. Some respondents chose to identify themselves; many did not. We share some—not all—of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents who shared their identity are attributed only for the purpose of indicating a level of expertise; statements reflect personal views. If you would like to participate in the next survey, mail andersj [at] elon dotedu; include information on your expertise.

The Future of the Internet Survey Cover PageThis page includes details on responses to a question about people’s perceptions of the likely future in regard to anonymity, identity and authentication. This was one of 10 questions raised by the 2010 Elon University-Pew Internet survey of technology experts and social analysts. A report outlining results of five of the survey questions was unveiled at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Survey respondents shared thousands of issues-exposing predictive statements after being asked to consider “tension pairs,” thus projecting their attitudes about the likely state of things in 2020. Experts were asked about the Internet and the evolution of: intelligence; reading and the rendering of knowledge; identity and authentication; gadgets and applications; and the core values of the Internet.

Future Tension on Identity and Authentication

Following is a selection of responses from survey participants who preferred to remain anonymous. Additional anonymous responses to this question will be posted soon. To read the responses of people who took credit for their remarks, click here.

“The matrix will be signals intelligent, not communications intelligent – detecting energy but not decoding meaning. We will all act like Mafia people, aware most electronic communication is monitored.”“I suggest that both will be true. For most everyday life, there will be increasing technology-enabled regulation. But there will also be a thriving counter-culture developing anonymous connectivity. It isn’t clear how far this counter-culture will penetrate into the mainstream – that will depend on social and politcal factors.”

“Circumvention and anonymity technology will become more advanced, because there will be enormous numbers of people with an interest in communicating privately and anonymously. There will still be authoritarian regimes and lack of freedom of expression. Internationally, the right to remain anonymous will be considered on par with the right to freedom of expression.”

“Anonymity’s some of the fun of the Internet, and we won’t always want to be identified all of the time. Anonymous online activity will lessen as people grow more comfortable expressing themselves in public online spheres, but that’s due to consumer choice rather than technological enhancements. Fingerprints, DNA, retina scans, and the like will not be commonly used online, especially as many will find that too invasive.”

“Insiders all know that nothing is anonymous now, if ever it was. It will only be less so in the future, and only some very very very persistent lawyering in this country is keeping the most intrusive actions at bay for now. But this is a losing battle in the long run.”

“Anonymity is threatened, in part by legitimate demands for better security.”

“I hope that people will resist needing to input their DNA to go shopping!”

“Identification will be voluntary in the most generally useful applications.”

“People not always want being known when they speak their real thinking.”

“I hope the first scenario occurs.”

“Based on the actual law creation in Europe, anonymous Internet visits will be impossible. The data retention law already requires the storage of all communication information of the last 6 months, which means definitely more then 6 months.”

“Corporate control of Web interaction will increase.”

“There is a difference between requirements for online anonymity and online security. Security systems will certainly become more formal and reliable. Increased security does not, in my opinion, mean increased anonymity.”

“Alas the surveillance society will be the response to ID theft.”

“The privacy advocates will insist that the innovations developed actually do more to protect the public disclosure of personal identity.”

“Because pseudonyms and attributes can be authenticated without disclosing more detailed ‘real world’ identity information/”

“This is a challenge that must be addressed, unless we want to completely lose our privacy. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in Internet crime. While people might change their minds based on evolving conditions, they will be imprisoned by utterances made decades earlier. This situation could lead to groups that go underground just to privately express their thinking. The Internet is fast becoming the wild old west.”

“While I think there are many places where people will desire some form of identification, I think that people will resist being forced into a rigid ID structure such as the first scenario describes. I think there will always be some desire to different levels of anonymity online, and where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“It’s hard to see how or why you’d make online identification other than optional. That said, people will perceive a lot more reasons to take up the identification option: getting through spam filters, customised service.”

“If ID systems increase, use of alters will increase. Because ID is such a nuisance, digital natives will develop work-arounds.”

“It will be an archipelago of named users, who get a lot of value from participating in that part of the ecosystem, but still set in an ocean of anonymity.”

“THERE WAS ‘ANONYMITY’ FOR LIKE 15 MINUTES IN THE EARLIEST 90’s. Please. As Tom Jennings pointed out, ‘Privacy is when you think no one is looking.’”

“Follow the money again. If there is money in security apps then our access will be shaped by that market place.”

“A tough question – but with efforts to curtail terrorism, I have to guess that the Internet will become less anonymous.”

“Many people will stop using the Internet if they have to disclose their identity. I believe that they will still be able to work anonymously on the Internet by 2020.”

“The security may prevail in the need areas.”

“Online identification will continue to gain prevalence – but don’t expect biometric authentication to be widely deployed any time soon. At best we’ll see an increase in the use of ‘open tokens.’”

“Authentication is due for a major revamp. A lot of the problems with the current Internet relate to the absence of secure authentication. We will have to get our act together to correct this, and anonymity will be one of the casualties of this correction.”

“Yikes. I hope anonymity remains possible. However, I think we will find better ways to identify for security like with accessing your bank account.”

“In the US, we will still see anonymity as a value. Elsewhere, that will not be the case. So I assume you’re talking about the US. I think that the political value of anonymity is too baked into our culture to be forgotten in 10 years.”

“Actual rate of viruses, spams, malware in one side and the rise of laws enforcing the use of digital signatures, and other personal identification will force the identification of most users over the Net.”

Many more anonymous responses will be added to this page in coming weeks!

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