Two kinds of anonymity

When thinking about anonymity (and privacy), I like to divide it into two main categories, Real Anonymity and Granted anonymity. Real Anonymity is where you don’t reveal any information that could identify yourself when performing a public act (like posting comment to a blog). Granted Anonymity is where a third party knows who you are, but “grants” anonymity based on a pre-arraigned agreement such as a TOS.

Microsoft Live customers are now discovering the main drawback to Granted Anonymity; it can be revoked (hat tip to Pamela Dingle).

I am not going to comment on this specific case, enough others will do that. But I would like to share one rule I live by:

Never say anything on the internet under a grant of anonymity that you wouldn’t say publicly as yourself.

Some of the things that can cause the grant of anonymity to be revoked include:

  • Change of TOS (which seems to be the case here)
  • Acquisition of your service provider, resulting in a new TOS
  • Government subpoena (including private lawsuits)
  • Security breach at your service provider
  • A breach of the TOS on your part
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