Thoughts on Avatars & Anonymity.

In the UK the topic of online anonymity is being discussed by a House of Lords Select Committee with the aim to curb online abuse from anonymous users.. 

For me, my avatar presents an interesting gradient to Identity vs anonymity. My SL avatar is my anonymity but also an identity, so its not really anonymity, but a pseudonym. But the way todays media seems to work Anonymity and Pseudonyms are merged and treated as the same thing sometimes as Google and Facebook seemed to do during the #nymwars.

I’ make quite an effort to keep My SL avatar identity separate from my real life, to the point of asking NWN’s to remove an image it posted of my real identity in order to disassociate my real life personal identity from my SL avatar in googleImage search.

There was a time when everything was tied together. I had Facebook, and Google whatever, building albums of videos and pictures of my family and friends and work. Then i reached a point where i didn’t want just anyone from anywhere looking at family pictures, seeing where i lived and what I got up to and where i worked. I was creating an environment thanks to growing social networks where anyone could comment on my personal life. If people wanted to bully or harass me then they could on Facebook, on my blog, or youtube. They could also easily find members of my family or friends, and i allowed this.

So i disconnected my real identity from my online world completely. Facebook, Google, Youtube, all social networks that took great pains to trawl my real world personal life  in order to create a history about me.

You give up finding out what people said they liked and instead you just look at what they’ve done in the past. You assembled all the data from people’s history – all the stuff they’ve looked at and bought in the past – and then compared that with other peoples’ past. Out of that came patterns and correlations that the human brain could not possibly see – but from those correlations you could tell what individuals would want in the future. Greg Linden was part of what was called The Personalization Group in Amazon. He said:

the joke in the group was that if the system were working perfectly, Amazon should just show you one book – which is the next book you are going to buy.

And it worked – sales soared, and Jeff Bezos who runs Amazon allegedly crawled up to Linden on his hands and knees saying “I am not worthy“.

What Amazon and many other companies began to do in the late 1990s was build up a giant world of the past on their computer servers. A historical universe that is constantly mined to find new ways of giving back to you today what you liked yesterday – with variations.

NOW THEN – Adam Curtis It’s an interesting article i suggest you read 🙂

So Social Networks won’t like me since i don’t give them any data about my real world for other companies to reference when trying to sell me stuff.

I’m left with my Second Life identity which is a pseudonym and become far more known around the world compared to my personal real world life. I’d be silly to bully or harass people online as my SL pseudonym because my avatar and SL name is incredibly valuable to me. Facebook are quite welcome to collect historical data on what i’m up to in virtual space, … actually no, they can fek off.

I’m somewhat surprised given that long time Users of Second Life curate their experience in virtual Space around their interests and hobbies, there is no evidence that Linden Lab have ever collected and used that historical data like Facebook. I wonder if Linden Lab have ever looked into it?

In May 2007, the then-chief operating officer of Second Life gave a “brown-bag lunch” address at the NSA explaining how his game (Second Life) gave the government “the opportunity to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviours of non-Americans through observation, without leaving US soil”. – The Guardian.

I also wonder wether the Social Avatar in a virtual world is different enough from a text based social accounts that it could lead to a more valuable pseudonym if how 2ndGen VR enthusiasts are predicting the Web will turn 3D. But then i think about my friend who is on his 10 or 11th Alt account simply because he likes to try out new versions of himself but ends up just being the same instantly recognisable person.

The struggle between Anonymity and Identity is one of power and freedom. I should be free to explore any aspect of my life without being restrained by the capitalist and totalitarian need for everyone to be static and easy to predict.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Avatars & Anonymity.

  1. Identity vs anonymity is not only an interesting topic but must be the most discussed on the net.and in my mind it should be. The House of Lords gives a hoot, well yes, the resource and cost to protect against cyber bullying and pornography (in particular child pornography) are astronomical. This protection is also wanted, at times demanded, by their public.

    In SL my av is me in character, likes, dislikes, attitude, dreams, wishes, hopes and humour. I care for my friends in the same way as if they sat beside me. The only difference between me (RL) and my av is name and bust size (yes she has the bust I want), lol

    People know enough about me to track me by city and profession, I was leery at first about this but I trust those people. Also what value would I server at present. So my av and I are the same person, so a pseudonym.

    One thing in parting: In a venue like SL the subjects of security and identity is oft talked about., Well I do wonder about the use of voice. In some places “voice recognition is as secure as a finger print. (thought I would toss that out there)



  2. Even though no one in their right mind would deny the existence of bullying and harassment on the internet, these issues simply don’t justify the abolition of online anonymity and pseudonymity. First of all, because it is perfectly possible through proper use of internet forensics to identify perpetrators of online harassment and apprehend them, even without the slightest change to the existing legislation. Second, because the risk of harassment and bullying, along with the risks to one’s livelihood, family peace, or even life are reasons for someone to choose anonymity and/or pseudonymity online. Activists need anonymity and/or pseudonymity. LGBT people (who are, whether we like it or not, subject to discrimination in most societies) need anonymity and pseudonymity to reach out to support networks. Victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse etc. – They need anonymity and pseudonymity.

    Even for artistic reasons, anonymity and pseudonymity are perfectly legitimate. I can think of many singers, songwriters, poets, etc, who were going by pseudonyms. There are also many musical pieces written by “Anon”; does anyone remember that beautiful composition titled “Romanza”? That said, it’s all about censorship. The orderers-about are getting fed up with the plebs using the internet to oppose them, so they say “from now on, you’ll no longer have the illusion of safety that anonymity/pseudonymity gives you; that’ll make you think twice before saying something WE don’t like.” Also, back in 2011, Jillian C. York of the EFF had written a very poignant article, titled “A Case for Pseudonyms”. I highly recommend it:

  3. you can try to keep reallife and virtuallife seperated. and it works fine. but you always get at some point that the are crossing each others road. like voice of real life meetings. but still you can keep them very good seperated by not useing facebook or posting real life picture. my virtual character is more important and i think more know then my real life one. but company’s make it always terrible difficult to seperate thing good, and you cannot drop that company to because it important key to keep in contact with other virtual people. i try as god as possible to keep reallife and virtual life seperated. facebook is the biggest nightmare on internet.

    but yes, i dont understand why many people post so much reallife info and pictures on the internet.

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