Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Money is information coined

In the general case, you are not anonymous on the interweb, but economically-anonymous, which I propose to label “enonymous”, and that’s not the same thing at all. If you threaten to kill the President, you will be tracked down, and the state will spend the money it takes on it. But if you call Lily Allen a a hereditary celebrity and copyright hypocrite (not my own views, naturally) then it’s not worth the state’s money to track you down. If Lily wants to spend her own money on tracking you down and taking a civil action for libel, then fair enough, that’s the English way of limiting free speech. If the newspapers want to spend their own money on it, fine.

I think this is an interesting approach, bringing friction into the definition. It resonates as related to an information-centric definition of anonymity. If we say that money is information coined, then we bring in Hayek. Which is always good fun.

The explicit introduction of money as a way to measure (a subset of) privacy invasions allows us to think about the erosion of privacy by the addition of technology. We know that the internet makes it easier, and perhaps money is that yardstick. What does it take to track down your property taxes? It’s gone from sending someone to the county records office to having someone with a browser. So Alice’s privacy with respect to Bob is not only lower, it’s no longer related to the cost of travel. We’ve zero’d out a term in the cost equation, and that leads to all sorts of chaos.

Anyone engaged in the NSTIC discussion should read and ponder the line of reasoning that Dave extracts over a long and chaotic set of sources. His post advances the discussion around NSTIC, and raises questions that must be answered if that work is to lead anywhere.

The NSTIC proposal places no value on anonymity; indeed, it evinces an apparent lack of understanding of what anonymity really means. It takes for granted the need for authentication (if we pay in cash, why does a merchant, much less a common carrier or government agency, need to know about us other than that our money isn’t counterfeit?) and confuses a policy that purportedly restricts disclosure of our identity with actual non-knowledge of our identity.
[From Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » Public says “No” to national cyberspace ID proposal]

If we in Europe decide to develop our own kind of European Strategy on Trusted Identites in Cyberspace (ESTIC) then I think it should not only include both conditional and unconditional anonymity but should strive to make it clear that, like pseudonymity, these types of online persona will be the norm, not the exception.

2 comments on "Money is information coined"

  • Adam,

    Interesting post, and I’d say that the change in the economics of certain situations cuts both ways. For example, it used to be that robbing someone’s bank account, or mugging them, or stealing certain types of data from them required physical presence of some sort “near” the victim. The economics of crime have changed equally such that now the thief halfway across the world can rip you off, with little fear of legal sanction.

    I think its fundamentally this competing tension that is at the heart of many of these things. Protecting people against crime, and protecting their privacy are both good goals in my opinion. It appears that we have a bit of a tricky time funding workable mechanisms online that don’t trade these two off against each other in contentious ways.

    I think its easy to read something like NSTIC as some sort of major power grab by the USG, but at the same time it can be viewed through another lens as a citizen protection from crime measure. Perfect – no. But, some elements of it really are about that, not just control for control’s sake.

  • caf says:

    It’s an interesting idea, because it lets you directly quantify how much anonymity you have in a given context – the monetary cost for a third party to connect your presence in that context to your identity.

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