Entries Tagged "anonymity"
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Latanya Sweeney has demonstrated how easy it can be to identify people from their birth date, gender, and zip code. The anonymous data she reidentified happened to be DNA data, but that’s not relevant to her methods or results.
Of the 1,130 volunteers Sweeney and her team reviewed, about 579 provided zip code, date of birth and gender, the three key pieces of information she needs to identify anonymous people combined with information from voter rolls or other public records. Of these, Sweeney succeeded in naming 241, or 42% of the total. The Personal Genome Project confirmed that 97% of the names matched those in its database if nicknames and first name variations were included.
Her results are described here.
It’s called stylometry, and it’s based on the analysis of things like word choice, sentence structure, syntax and punctuation. In one experiment, researchers were able to identify 80% of users with a 5,000-word writing sample.
Download tools here, including one to anonymize your writing style.
Long essay on the value of pseudonymity. From the conclusions:
Here lies the huge irony in this discussion. Persistent pseudonyms aren’t ways to hide who you are. They provide a way to be who you are. You can finally talk about what you really believe; your real politics, your real problems, your real sexuality, your real family, your real self. Much of the support for “real names” comes from people who don’t want to hear about controversy, but controversy is only a small part of the need for pseudonyms. For most of us, it’s simply the desire to be able to talk openly about the things that matter to every one of us who uses the Internet. The desire to be judged — not by our birth, not by our sex, and not by who we work for — but by what we say.
I leave you with this question. What if I had posted this under my pseudonym? Why should that have made a difference? I would have written the same words, but ironically, I could have added some more personal and perhaps persuasive arguments which I dare not make under this account. Because I was forced to post this under my real name, I had to weaken my arguments; I had to share less of myself. Have you ever met “Kee Hinckley”? Have you met me under my other name? Does it matter? There is nothing real on the Internet; all you know about me is my words. You can look me up on Google, and still all you will know is my words. One real person wrote this post. It could have been submitted under either name. But one of them is not allowed to. Does that really make sense?
Behind every pseudonym is a real person. Deny the pseudonym and you deny the person.
This is, of a course, a response to the Google+ names policy.
I’ve been asked this question by countless reporters in the past couple of weeks. Here’s a good explanation. Shorter answer: it’s easy to spoof source destination, and it’s easy to hijack unsuspecting middlemen and use them as proxies.
No, mandating attribution won’t solve the problem. Any Internet design will necessarily include anonymity.
They’re causing problems:
A white bank robber in Ohio recently used a “hyper-realistic” mask manufactured by a small Van Nuys company to disguise himself as a black man, prompting police there to mistakenly arrest an African American man for the crimes.
In October, a 20-year-old Chinese man who wanted asylum in Canada used one of the same company’s masks to transform himself into an elderly white man and slip past airport security in Hong Kong.
Authorities are even starting to think that the so-called Geezer Bandit, a Southern California bank robber believed for months to be an old man, might actually be a younger guy wearing one of the disguises made by SPFXMasks.
News coverage of the incidents has pumped up demand for the masks, which run from $600 to $1,200, according to company owner Rusty Slusser. But he says he’s not happy about it.
Slusser opened SPFXMasks in 2003. His six-person crew uses silicone that looks and feels like flesh, down to the pores. Each strand of hair and it’s human hair is sewn on individually. Artists methodically paint the masks to create realistic skin tones.
“I wanted to make something that looks so real that when you go out for Halloween no one can tell,” Slusser said. “It’s like ‘Mission: Impossible’ you pull it over your head one time and that’s it. It’s like a 10-hour makeup job in 10 seconds.”
He experimented until he found the right recipe for silicone that would seem like skin. A key discovery was that if the inside of the mask is smooth even if the outside is bumpy with pores, a nose and other features it will stretch over most faces and move with facial muscles.
I stayed clear of Haystack — the anonymity program that was going to protect the privacy of dissidents the world over — because I didn’t have enough details about the program to have an intelligent opinion. The project has since imploded, and here are two excellent essays about the program and the hype surrounding it.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.