Some Thots on Online Anonymity

I found this idea sprouting in my cereberal loam and transplant is into yours: Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte have been discussing the topic of the DNT header and congruent proposed privacy legislation. They are worried that the notion of tracking cookies will either be legislated to present manditory EULA agreements before acceptance, or that semi-anonymous tracking information might become legally encumbered. The effect being that advertisering agencies will not have low-friction mechanisms to identify semi-unique visitors. In Leo and Steve’s estimation, it is possible that the ability to calculate unique impressions for ads will become crippled, resulting in the advertising economics that often fund todays online independent broadcasts evaporating.

Two or three points of view occur to me. First: there are no good impression mechanisms for television, radio or newspaper–todays “netcasts” are offer an unprecidented resolution for advertising impressions. Is it possible to go on without it?

Second: the notion of cookies and headers, and privacy on the internet is exhaustively discussed. Our fundmental technical structure was not designed for anonymity, and whenever we create a login, we erode that notion ourselves. Do you think it is possible that we could design a web protocol that preserves anonymity, and is it possible to suppliment it with a perishable anonymous identity created by third (non advertising) parties in order to present a hollow avatar to the Internet? Thus, instead of using OpenID providing by wordpress or yahoo, we could use a token associated with a random identity provider that would last a season, which is often long enough to outlive our relationship with many online serivces.

And thirdly, the market for uniquely identifying visitor impressions in a semi- or mostly- anonymous manner that respects privacy obviously exists. You have looked into this for your own podcast, as you’ve mentioned. The poison pill in the flagon with the dragon is mostly the commercial entities aggregating advertising cookies across (all) Internet domains to the degree that these largely unaccountable companies cannot help but have no degree of anonymity left to their data. I have heard of methods of splitting data among multiple parties such that no two of three holders of the data can fit their pair of bits together to guess the third, and thus there is little hope for one holder of a stripe of bits to interpret identity from it. I presume that some basic changes to web client behavior would have to support this.

Not only is this concept applicable to assigning cookies to browsers, it is also governable, and it is also taxable. Do you think it is possible that multiple public institutions could curate fractional-cookie sets such that advertisers could pay them to compute uniques impressions from a set of cookie-shards?

I don’t assume I’m the first to consider these ideas. What of them are already out there?