AVA Labs CEO, Emin Gün Sirer addressed issues regarding identity, anonymity and privacy on blockchain in a recent thread on Twitter, which included a small discussion with Ethereum co-founder, Vitalik Buterin. In the thread, Sirer said that there is a lot of confusion around these topics, even in cypherpunk circles, and compared the good and bad uses of anonymity.
“Anonymity is essential online. People experiment with and explore all kinds of topics online. They should be able to do this without risking their hard-earned reputation.”
Sirer also advocated for actual privacy technology to enable people to have anonymity online, rather than the “drivers licenses for the Internet,” ideas which he labeled, “terrible.”
“But there are good and bad uses of anonymity. The core technology that enables one also enables the other. So we need social measures to push back on bad uses.”
According to Sirer, one good use of anonymity is when a high-school student or young adult exploring topics such as STDs without repercussions from family and teachers due to targeted ads from ISPs. Sirer also stated another good use of anonymity had been exemplified by the creator of Bitcoin himself:
“He gave a gift to the world, and committed the ultimate selfless act: he kept himself out of the picture.”
Sirer said that this ultimate sacrifice by Satoshi enables us to consider the technology independent of its creator and that he’d used the anonymity for a constructive purpose and not to escape scrutiny. In contrast, Sirer’s example of bad use of anonymity is when people create throwaway identities to launch attacks on others without repercussions. Consequently, Sirer said that there are two kinds of anonymous, with the key differentiator between them being the purpose behind the anonymity.
“Far from paying a price, they are using anonymity to shield themselves and make others pay costs for refuting their attacks. The key differentiator is “is this person anon for a societally good aim, or are they using anonymity as a shield while they attack others?””
In response, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin tweeted that there is an additional differentiator between the kinds of anonymous: fake accounts for avoiding social consequences vs fake accounts for sybil attacks. Buterin further added that the first case is often a good thing, as our social norms are far from well-aligned.
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“It’s actually not that difficult technologically to allow the first but not the second.”
Sirer responded to the Ethereum co-founder in agreement, stating that social sharing platforms could put an end to much of this fairly easily, but they encourage social strife instead, as they benefit from interaction on the platform.