Amid the SXSW chatter this week, I noticed that the Saturday keynote from 4Chan founder Christopher Poole was generating some buzz. His "case for anonymity online" speech was given at TED in 2010. I highly recommend spending 10 minutes to watch it.
Poole's argument is essentially this: anonymity breeds creativity, and it allows people to "reinvent themselves."
The conversation at SXSW centered around how Facebook's "authentic" approach to identity runs counter to the anonymity that Poole wishes to keep intact. It got me thinking about advertising.
In Advertising, Anonymous Doesn't Mean Untargeted
For an advertiser, anonymous means the lack of "personally identifiable information." But this doesn't mean untargeted. In fact, advertisers target online by trying to build a picture of who's seeing the ad. This is often done by looking at behavioral cues used to infer who a person is, or what they're looking for.
The Online Advertising Profile Isn't Always Authentic
Christopher Poole suggests that the rigidity in an "authenticity" model is that it isn't really authentic at all. We're all someone different depending on the situation. At home we're different than at work, different with friends than with family. I would argue that this is a primary challenge of online advertising. The profiles built to target online ads don't really build an authentic picture because they are an inference of a snapshot of who we are in that moment.
Could a more authentic profile help get rid of poorly targeted online advertising? How much control should w have over the data online advertisers can see?
It's certainly an interesting time to be asking these questions as the industry explores privacy challenges. I wonder what a world would look like where everyone has complete control over their privacy online...