The problem with anonymous (part VII)

Virus writers are always anonymous.

Vicious political lies (with faked photoshop photos of political leaders, or false innuendo about personal lives) are always anonymous as well.

Spam is anonymous.

eBay fraudsters are anonymous too.

It seems as though virtually all of the problems of the Net stem from this one flaw, and its one I’ve riffed on before. If we can eliminate anonymity online, we create a far more civil place.

How hard would it be to do?

What if the five leading search engines all agreed to create default setting that only searched pages that weren’t posted anonymously? You could always opt to search the larger, seedier web, but most users wouldn’t want to do that. Google news could skip the anonymous news feeds as well. Authentication wouldn’t be particularly difficult—it’s really hard to get an anonymous credit card, for example, so a fee of $20 or $30 a year ought to make a certification agency awfully happy.

What if the leading mail programs had a simple method to block all anonymous incoming email? In this case, the easy way to guarantee that email isn’t anonymous is to sell stamps for a tenth of a cent each. The average user might have to pony up $2 a month—and all that money could go to fund the work I’m talking about.

It’s ironic that we’ve set up two very different standards for our trust. In the real world, we’re skeptical of strangers. At the supermarket the other day, someone picked up my favorite brand of olive oil. I waxed on about how great it was, and of course, the shopper put it back and bought something else instead. Online, however, we’re happy to believe whatever image someone sends along, or buy something from a spammer.