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Volume 47 • Number 4

October 2010



Anonymity and the Social Self

by Steve Matthews

1. Introduction

We will analyze the concept of anonymity, along with cognate notions, and their relation to privacy, with a view to developing an understanding of how we control our identity in public and why such control is important in developing and maintaining our social selves. We will take anonymity to be representative of a suite of techniques of nonidentifiability that persons use to manage and protect their privacy. At the core of these techniques is the aim of being untrackable; this means that others lack the information they would need either to intrude physically upon me or to discover some private facts about me. Anonymity often enough goes together with privacy, but not always. Consider a person walking down a foreign street. It is not a physically private situation but no one there knows who you are. On the other hand, when I cast a postal vote, this act is both private and anonymous. Privacy and anonymity seem to go together because of the way each protects something importantly personal, but their coming apart suggests a difference both in what they mean and in our purposes for securing them. A lot has been written about privacy, and deservedly so; there is reason to think anonymity, and its cognates, important as well.

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ISSN: 2152-1123