Some food for thought

I subscribe to a daily news email from Quartz, and the intro from a couple of days ago felt particularly pertinent to our class. Enjoy!

“Russian troops take over Crimea! Rubbish, said Vladimir Putin: “Local self-defense forces.” Bitcoin’s inventor, the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, is really a man called Satoshi Nakamoto! Nonsense, said the real Nakamoto; he’d never before heard of “bitcom.” The man behind spoof Twitter gossip account @GSElevator never worked for Goldman Sachs! Yet in fact, his true identity was hiding in plain sight for months.

It seems that even in our hyper-surveilled and sharing-obsessed world, identity remains a fraught and nebulous thing. Putin used the confusion over what was really happening in Crimea to the fullest to steal a march on the West. The Nakamoto unmasked in Los Angeles might be telling the truth—online, an account linked more or less definitively with the bitcoin creator piped up to say he wasn’t that Nakamoto—or it might all be a ruse to keep himself out of the spotlight. And @GSElevator’s book deal mysteriously evaporated after he was outed.

Identities are increasingly central to the internet economy, since whoever manages your online identity for you manages your data, and thus acts as your broker for a growing number of services. Identifying and profiling online users could soon be an industry worth tens of billions of dollars.

Some think that means that, as people’s online identities fill out with real data about them, anonymity will gradually vanish. But as all three of the above cases show, there’s always demand for fake, fudged or invented identities. And where there’s demand, there’ll be another industry around it.”