If you’ve ever used the Internet anonymously, chances are it was for social reasons. You have unpopular opinions you don’t want connected to your real name, you’re pretending to be someone you’re not or you simply enjoy a good bout of trolling.
In many developing nations, using the Internet anonymously is a matter of personal safety: governments cracking down on free expression or politically unpopular opinions can mean punishment, jail time and worse in many nations.
While preventing users from using pseudonyms on the Internet can solve a lot of problems in the U.S. – cutting cyber-bullying and particularly noxious trolling (posting on message boards and in social media with no other purpose but to upset and offend others) – it could endanger the lives of others in politically unstable regions of the world.
For this reason, senior Google (News - Alert) executive and Internet legend, Vint Cerf, says Google and others should not force Internet users to reveal their real names for some services, including his company’s Google+ social network.
Social media has played an important role as of late in companies with unstable political environments. Many of the “Arab Spring” uprisings were given global media exposure only through mobile social media postings, as governments shut down websites, newspapers and other media that allowed people inside these countries to communicate with the outside world or record and share video of violence against protestors.
Cerf spoke with Reuters recently and indicated that Google’s insistence on instituting real-name authentication for Google+ and other services has sparked intense debate and some disagreement within the company. But he argued that current name policy, which allows for some users to display pseudonyms, offers adequate "choice" in how users choose to represent themselves.
"Using real names is useful," Cerf said. "But I don't think it should be forced on people, and I don't think we do."
Digital rights activists have accused two of the Internet industry's most influential players – Facebook (News - Alert) and Google – of leading the charge against anonymity by pushing its users to identify themselves, which can turn up valuable information for two companies that essentially make money by advertising and tracking user behavior, reported Reuters (News - Alert).