Anonymity and Privacy

by Sunil Abraham last modified Jan 26, 2009 09:42 AM

Context

The first two waves of cyberculture celebrated the anonymous conditions within which the different actors in interaction were introjected in different practices online. There was a significant attention given to the nature of presence, absence, being, and the schism between the corporeal and the digital bodies and reality.

However, with an increased amount of State regulation, governance and attention to the nature of life on the screen, the condition of anonymity has quickly been replaced by a condition of pseudonymity. The pseudonymous structures within cyberspace offer a world of role-playing, fantasising and narrativisation that, while still effective, are no longer merely in the domains of the aesthetic or the performative but enter serious domains of legislation, regulation, control, and politics.

New modes of sanitising the behaviour of users online and the construction of the ethical techno-social subject have led on one hand to some very disturbing behaviour on the part of powerful agencies, and to strong political mobilisation and the advent of the public sphere on the other. As the market, the State and the public all inflect users to reiterate their physical boundaries and geo-political status, it becomes interesting to see what role anonymity still has to play online and what is the political investment in being pseudonymous online.

Research Agenda

  1. With the increasing regulation of cyberspaces, are anonymous spaces being lost, and with them, the voices and the people that belonged to these spaces?

  2. How do we sustain the paradox of safety in recognition on one hand and the safety in being invisible on the other?

  3. Is the question of anonymity universal across different kinds of cyberspaces? With occurrences like the ‘Orkut Deaths’ and the ‘National Emblems Defamation’ cases on the one hand and the construction of cyber-terrorism on the other, do we need to delve deeper into what it means to be anonymous online and the negotiations that one enters into when role-playing online?

  4. The debates around anonymity often create an artificial distinction between the physical and the digital worlds, treating one as more authentic than the other. This aesthetic paradigm further enters debates around piracy, copying and the digital media. How do questions of authenticity and the construction of an ethical subject intersect with the debates around anonymity?

  5. How does anonymity enable the demonisation of various cyberspatial practices? What are the kind of public education systems which should be in place so that we can find safety and freedom (often antithetical to each other) in cyberspaces without excessive control and regulation?

  6. If anonymity is an inescapable condition of being online, how does it affect new forms of behaviour and community formations that we see in the contemporary urban?

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