“I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away.” While many people may share that sentiment, it is different coming from Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s marketing director. “People behave a lot better when they have their real names down,” she adds.
Zuckerberg made the statement at a Marie Clair panel on social media. It comes in the wake of a similar statement by Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt and a new policy enacted by Google+ requiring users to register with their real names. Several thousand user accounts have already been disabled on the site because of policy violations. As SanJose.com reported, the policy was defended by VP Vic Gondotra to blogger Robert Scoble, who compared the site to a restaurant that, “doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”
The problem is especially egregious at Facebook, which has frequently been used to stalk people. Recently, a Washington State court gave a 12-year-old probation for stalking and cyberbullying a classmate on Facebook. While Zuckerberg believes that this could have been avoided had the user been forced to give her real name, the problem is that Facebook already has policies in place to prevent minors from accessing the site.
The other great irony is that Facebook, which is now worth almost $100 billion, makes its money from targeted advertising based on the enormous trove of information it routinely collects from its users. Claiming that there is too much privacy and that users should be required to provide more may be a genuine attempt to stop cyberbullying or it may be a cynical attempt by the company’s marketing director to collect even more information about the people using the site.
Just yesterday, the House Judicial Committee voted on Bill HR 1981, “to approve legislation that would create a sweeping new provision requiring Internet companies (email, cloud, social networking, and more) to collect and retain hundreds of millions of records about the identity of online users.” Popularly known as the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011,” the ACLU has pointed out that, “Law enforcement would be allowed to access the information to investigate less serious crimes, and intelligence agencies could incorporate the information into their intelligence gathering. Private litigants — from divorce lawyers to copyright holders — would also be able to access it.” In a later posting they add, “At a time when high profile data breaches are daily news stories and identity theft is widespread, this provision seems ill-considered at best.”
Protecting children and putting an end to cyberbullying are undoubtedly important objectives. The question, critics ask, is whether eliminating internet privacy is the solution. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) dates from 1986, long before the internet became so widespread.
A letter signed by groups ranging from the American Library Association to the Muslim Public Affairs Council to the Electronic Privacy Information Center has written to Congress stating that, “We live in an age where our devices and the way we use the internet are constantly generating records – what we read, where we go, who our friends are. If those records must always be saved for future use, they become a persistent and pervasive assault on our privacy and an irresistible temptation to law enforcement.”
Calling for less internet privacy, when it can easily be construed as an attempt to collect more personal information for financial gain, could easily be seen as yet another “persistent and pervasive assault on our privacy.”