In our previous article, we have discussed Techniques for Identifying Users on the Web. The IP address allows for the lowest level of identification. It identifies every participant on the Internet, usually individual computers. Identification is done via the IANA entry for the Internet access provider and this can be used to identify the Internet connection owner with the IP address you are looking for. The access provider can be compelled by the courts to assign an IP address in its address range to a subscriber. This can be used to find the sender of the information transmitted via the Internet, unless special countermeasures have been taken.
Anonymizers are used to hide one’s identity via a different IP address while surfing. The most common and simplest variant is anonymizing proxy servers or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). However, operators of proxies can create log files that display logs of IP address, time and transmitted data and hand them over to the responsible authorities upon request.
Another technique is onion routing. An example of this is Tor, an anonymizing overlay network for TCP developed by the Freehaven Project.
Benefits of Disclosing Personal Information
Anonymity on the Internet is a politically controversial topic, as it has both advantages and disadvantages. There are a number of use cases where the disclosure of personal data has a positive impact on internet usage. These include the following:
- Personalized advertising could reduce the number of advertisements with little or no connection to Internet use. The total amount of advertising can remain the same. The selection of advertising messages is then based on the evaluation of the customer’s profile.
- By transmitting a user’s location (geotargeting), regional services can be offered, for example, or directions can be given.
- As a side effect, the release of personal data can increase the attributability of actions on the web. This could increase trust between business partners and facilitate the processing of purchase contracts.
- Online mail order business requires name and address.
- Authors cannot enforce their copyright if the copyright infringer is anonymous. Even data breaches cannot be solved in the case of anonymous perpetrators.
- Law enforcement agencies have difficulties in solving crimes that take place on the Internet when anonymization services are used. Therefore, a restriction or even a ban is demanded from this side. Opponents of this demand, such as security expert Bruce Schneier, argue that because of the way the internet works, tech-savvy criminals will always find a way to remain anonymous. It is never clear which person is responsible for a particular data packet, as other computers can be used or misused as proxy servers, for example.
Advantages of Anonymized Internet Use
A significant advantage of anonymized Internet use is the guarantee of freedom of expression, see also the article Censorship on the Internet. Never before have people been able to express their opinions so freely. Anonymously on the Internet, there is no need to take into account neighbours, colleagues, employers, landlords, and other authorities, etc.
On the other hand, personality profiles can contain intimate data about the Internet user, which offers a wide range of opportunities for abuse. The user wants to keep information such as social contacts, political opinions, personal worldview, information about financial problems or even information about health problems as confidential as possible.
But his research on the internet can reveal him. Without the possible anonymity measures, such as changing IP addresses or blocking or accepting cookies that only expire quickly, this data can easily be collected about each user.
Especially in e-commerce, there are business areas in which the user benefits from his anonymity on the Internet. In contrast to retail, interaction on the Internet does not take place with a real person, but with a system of goods. The user is thus not forced to give another person an insight into his private area, but interacts with an electronic system. This factor has a positive effect on the following business areas, for example:
- Distribution of erotic articles and Internet pornography
- Distribution of medicines and prescriptions via the Internet
- Counselling portals for personal problems (e.g. eating disorders)
- Counselling portals for medical problems
- A significant advantage of anonymized Internet use is the circumvention of content blocks and the guarantee of freedom of expression, see also the article Censorship on the Internet.