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Real names, real problems

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[Dave Birch] There is an assumption, which is reasonably well-founded I think, that many social media companies want to develop “Real Names” policies of one form or another not to prevent trolling or to protect the kiddies in one way or another, but to help with the commercialisation of their services and the monetization of the identities that they hold. Whereas the identity “Dave Birch of Consult Hyperion” may be worth something to commercial organisations (debt collectors, payday loan sharks and so forth)  — according to real names thinking — the identity “Leadbelly Gutbucket, mightiest of the Dwarven heroes of Ravenscrag Pass” may not. Hence the drive to find out who people really are.

Real Names is slithering into the whole fabric of the company’s offerings, whether specific sites benefit from what will often be “over-identification” or not.

[From IdentityBlog – Digital Identity, Privacy, and the Internet’s Missing Identity Layer]

One of the smokescreen reasons for wanting real names is trolling. I might think that it is my right as an Englishman to post abuse about the Chancellor of the Exchequer on The Telegraph web site, but others think that if I were forced to use my real name to log in then I would be more polite. I say smokescreen, because we don’t even have to guess whether a rigorously-enforced real names policy will make any difference to civility in online discourse, because we already know it won’t. What’s more, we know something else too: if you make people smear their “real” identities all over the internet because of such a policy, thus delivering the “over–identification” noted above, then that will make identity theft worse.

Korean sites were also inundated by hackers, presumably after valuable identities.

[From Surprisingly Good Evidence That Real Name Policies Fail To Improve Comments | TechCrunch]

The Korean case study shows clearly that a real names policy does not reduce trolling because the morons who troll are, well morons. Someone who posts racist abuse on Twitter, such as the noted association footballer Mr. Rio Ferdinand, really ought to understand that other people will read it and take offence since Twitter is a public communications channel (it’s not confined to football: look at the athletes sent home from the Olympics for sending racist tweets). What’s more, the real names policy does more harm than good, because it provides even more sources for the bad guys to obtain the real names that they need to commit other crimes. I read in the minutes of the recent Eurim meeting on the European Commission’s proposal for a regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market that

Identity fraud is the top enabler for all aspects of crime in Europe, and a major contributor to the Euro-crisis. The level of fraud in Europe last year was estimated at €500 billion, with an estimated €2 trillion for 2011-12. Europol have announced that unless this is addressed, they will be unable to contain crime.

I absolutely guarantee that a misplaced real names policy will make this worse. If you collect real names, things will always end up going wrong. You simply cannot assume that any information you give to organisations will remain private, no matter how well-intentioned.

Witnesses who complained about anti-social behaviour on a crime-hit estate were given police protection after a council error led to their personal details handed to troublemakers… Police are now patrolling a housing estate around the clock to protect the residents involved.

[From Council handed names of residents who complained about anti-social behaviour to trouble-makers – Telegraph]

Oh dear. Doesn’t sound like “real names” are working out too well in that case. Especially since there was no reason for the council to obtain the “real names” of the complainants. This is a case where “real attributes” are the key. The council needed to know that the complainants were council tenants living in a particular area. If we had an identity infrastructure befitting a modern economy (we don’t) then the tenants would have been able to submit their complaint by smartphone and have the text followed by a blinded cryptographic token attesting to their status but from which it would be mathematically infeasible to determine their identity. So no matter what the berks at the council do, the identities reman secret.

One thing that might really help the real names nutters, by the way, is making it easier to spot what are actually real names. If I create a Facebook profile as Theogenes de Montford, for example, how do you know whether that’s a real name or not? It would help if there were a relatively short list of real names, so I suggest that Facebook puts some lobbying money into Sweden.

Activists are lobbying for parents to be able to choose any name for their children (there are currently just 170 legally recognized unisex names in Sweden).

[From Hen: Sweden’s new gender neutral pronoun causes controversy. – Slate Magazine]

This seems like an odd story until you realise that in Sweden can you only choose a legally-approved name for your child. Sensible policies for a better interweb: Facebook should make a list of allowable real names and make you choose a combination of them. That way, any disloyal subject of Her Majesty trying to post abuse about the Chancellor of the Exchequer using a made up name could be instantly spotted and blocked.

P.S. In case you’re interested, Theogenes de Montford is indeed a real name.

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of 
Consult Hyperion or any of its clients or suppliers

 

One thought on “Real names, real problems”

  1. wendyg@pelicancrossing.net' Wendy M. Grossman says:

    The notion of a society with only a few allowable names was explored pretty thoroughly in Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, which seems to me an unjustly forgotten book because there are a lot of developments now that remind me of that book. It was somewhat in the vein of 1984: a dystopia with mass surveillance and control (in Levin, the population was drugged in their food to suppress both revolution and sexuality) and wore government-issued coveralls; the thing I really remember was they all wore bracelets they held up for scanners to read whenever they wanted to go anywhere, buy anything, do anything. There were 4 male and 4 female names (I don’t remember the female ones, but the male ones included Jesus and Karl (for Marx)), followed by a number.

    wg

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