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Real Name Internet versus Reality

There is a growing cacophony that a fully identified, real name policy for the Internet will solve all of our problems relating to crime, bullying, harassment, and everything else. This idea is furthered along by Facebook, Google, and the US White House.

As just one example of how this is an over-simplified argument, it seems people are continuing to forget their childhoods. As a kid, many of you were bullied and harassed at school. You knew the kids picking on you at lunch, at recess, at morning before class, and after school. Further, you knew their parents, where they lived, and generally who they were outside of school. This bullying and harassment may have continued through High School, into College, and through your work life. Again, you knew their real names and far more about them than Google, Facebook, or the US Govt will ever hope to know. A real name world hasn't made life better, more civil, or safer for millions of kids growing up in it.

I've spent time talking to kids that have been bullied online and in real life. It's all done with real names via Facebook, text messaging, at recess, after school, via twitter, etc. It spreads to those trying to stop it, such as their parents who get involved to defend their kid. These are all real name environments. Kids don't call it bullying. It's called 'starting static' these days to skirt the word 'bullying'. Regardless of the term, it's frequently done via real names.

There is a small, but growing, set of voices realizing that real name policies aren't all they are promising to provide, namely safety. EFF/Jillian York, GigOM/Matthew Ingram, and moot have all made cases why anonymity is important on the Internet. This forced dichotomy is not new, Karina Rigby wrote about it back in 1995.

We've learned over the past few years that the ability to remain anonymous has led to people instituting positive change, such as the 'Arab Spring', and to being able to research and question authority without the fear of punishment and/or death to them and their relatives in repressive regimes. Further, the option of anonymity can allow you to explore new topics, learn about new things, and join new communities. You are freed from the baggage of your own history. People can change.

Jerks can use anonymity too. Or they can use their real names. It would be an interesting study to see the abuse/complaint report numbers for Facebook, Google+, and other real name environments versus similar environments without such a real name requirement. It would be equally interesting to learn if the presence of an authority figure versus real names provides less abuse/complaints from the members. This post is skipping the entire topic of trojan software acting in your name, such as botnets collating millions of identities to do the bidding of others.

The power is in the beholder, not the technology itself. Use your anonymity for good, while you still have it. You should be in control of your identity, not someone else.

Google Chrome Incognito Mode, Tor, and Fingerprinting

A few months back, I posted that we have been in discussion with Mozilla about improving their Private Browsing mode to resist fingerprinting and the network adversary. As I mentioned there, we have also been doing the same thing with Google for Google Chrome. Google has taken the same approach as Firefox for their Incognito mode, which means that it provides little to no protections against a network adversary.

This means that Chrome Incognito mode is not safe to use with Tor. read more »

Torbutton Release 1.2.5, Google Captchas, and addons.mozilla.org

Torbutton 1.2.5 has been released. You can download it from the torbutton homepage. It has also been submitted to addons.mozilla.org, though it may take a while for Mozilla to review the addon.

In addition to the numerous bug fixes mentioned in the changelog, one of the new features of this release is to provide the ability to automatically redirect to an alternate search engine when Google presents you with a captcha. The current options are IxQuick, Bing, Yahoo, and Scroogle. Since it supports SSL, and appears to have a progressive stance on user privacy, IxQuick is the current default. read more »

BitTorrent support for Thandy

As a returning Google Summer of Code student for the second year in a row, I was thrilled to hear that I had been accepted again.

My task was to add BitTorrent support to Thandy, the secure automated updater developed by the Tor project, along with setting up and testing the necessary infrastructure. The goal is to better mitigate load spikes following the release of new software versions and allowing volunteers to easily help users to fetch Tor. read more »

Google funds an auto-update for Vidalia

Google is funding a project to create an auto-update feature in Vidalia. This auto-update feature will provide a better user experience for Tor users. The goal is to create a system where Vidalia can detect when a new release is available, fetch the package, verify authenticity, and assist the user in upgrading the Vidalia/Tor package. The auto-update feature preserves the user's privacy and anonymity. Over the next six months we'll develop the auto-update system for general release around November 15, 2008.

We're excited to work with Google on this project and look forward to the collaboration.

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