Most commentary on the Internet is essentially done anonymously, using unidentifiable pseudonyms. While these names can take on an identity of their own, they are frequently separated from and anonymous from the actual author. Full anonymity on the Internet is not guaranteed since IP addresses can be tracked, identifying a user's computer.
If you want to remain anonymous on the Web, then Tor is a very good solution. Our identity is governed by the IP we use, which your ISP knows, and which can be shared with the authorities if requested. To get around that identification and tracking problem, Tor offers a solution by routing your requests through multiple servers, so that all your ISP, or anyone else looking, will see is a repeated request to a non-descript Tor server rather than the actual destination you are heading to.
It was the case of the blogger Kathy Sierra that caused Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and others to propose in 2007 an unofficial code of conduct on blog sites, part of which would outlaw anonymity. Kathy Sierra is a programming instructor based in California; after an online spat on a tech-site she was apparently randomly targeted by an anonymous mob that posted images of her as a sexually mutilated corpse on various websites and issued death threats. Wales's proposals were quickly shot down by the libertarians, and the traffic-hungry, as unworkable and against the prevailing spirit of free-speech.
Lately, as more popular websites provide for public comments, the sheer amount of negative content means that users are starting to push back. This change in attitude is likely to lead to a more pro-active stance on uncovering the authors of such communications, particularly where the communications have breached the law.
In these circumstances, a user could seek to identify the author of a defamatory or racially discriminative post through the author's internet service provider (ISP) - and it is possible that a court would order the author's ISP to hand over their details.
According to Gia Lee (1996), the debates over online anonymity have centered on three key issues: the first issue has to do with the informative aspect of identity; the second issue concerning anonymity deals with group pressures; the third issue involves the enforcement of existing legal restrictions on speech. Although there are no quick fixes to these debates, scholars and legal experts have suggested that a compromise would be to enact "a principle of truth in the nature of naming" (Marx, 1999).
Most commenting systems that promise anonymity fail to deliver it. Anonymous accounts are still tracked in web logs and leave traces of activity across a site.
There is a difference online between privacy and anonymity. When a company that does business with you online refers to privacy, they are typically referring to the laws and regulations that govern privacy. Anonymity means that you are avoiding the appearance of an online persona; law enforcement doesn't like the idea of anonymity because it means that criminals can cloak their Internet transactions and make them harder to identify.
The protection of anonymity takes on added significance on the Internet, a medium which provides individuals with unprecedented opportunities to both publish and receive information. While the expressive powers of the Internet have long been understood by its users, the medium's potential attained recognized constitutional status only in 1997. In ACLU v. Reno, the Supreme Court reviewed the Communications Decency Act, the first federal statute seeking to regulate Internet content, the Court concluded that there is "no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied to this medium."
H.R. 1981 – The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 – was just approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a 19 to 10 vote. The bill would require Internet service providers to keep a record of all of their customers’ activity on the Web for the last 18-month period; it would also force providers to retain customer names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card information, bank account numbers and IP addresses, and keep them readily available should the government need to access them for investigations. Essentially, it destroys the concept of anonymity on the Internet, as everything you do would be tracked, recorded and made available if the government decided to ask for it.
Anonymity refers to the absence of identifying information associated with an interaction. Compared to physical interactions, online interactions allow for both greater and lesser amounts of anonymity. For example, in a physical cash transaction, no paper or digital trail connects the consumer to the purchase or links purchases over
time. In online interactions, the lack of face-to-face contact leads to greater anonymity, at least in interpersonal
interactions; yet in e-commerce, each consumer leaves behind a long digital trail, including name, credit card numbers, mailing address, and buying patterns.
Erosion of anonymity is a product of pervasive social media services, cheap cellphone cameras, free photo and video Web hosts, and perhaps most important of all, a change in people’s views about what ought to be public and what ought to be private. This growing “publicness,” as it is sometimes called, comes with significant consequences for commerce, for political speech and for ordinary people’s right to privacy. There are efforts by governments and corporations to set up online identity systems.