Internet Anonymity Promotes Cyber-Cowardice

Former Microsoft executive Karl Jacob has launched a Web site that allows people to hold private conversations via the telephone without having to share their telephone numbers.

Keen.com has become a marketplace for conversation that allows celebrities, experts or anyone else to list their qualifications and availability for chats at per-minute prices set by the individuals.

Privacy is guaranteed because participants give their phone numbers and e-mail addresses to Keen.com, but not each other.

New Revenue Stream

As the company’s chief executive officer, Jacob is touting the site as a place where celebrities and experts can safely cash in on their fame or expertise. According to Jacob, people have been reluctant to talk one-on-one via the telephone because they do not want to give out their private telephone numbers.

Although Keen.com puts the two parties together, the company claims that it has no plans to censor the content of the conversations that take place on its Web site.

Plans To Set Minimum

Members of the site use credit cards to pay for conversation time on the system. Keen.com has set a minimum fee of five to ten cents per minute for the phone chats and will keep 30 percent of the fees for its trouble.

While this concept is definitely an ingenious one, I have some serious problems with it.

Haven For Scam Artists

For one thing, star-struck consumers could end up going into debt just to talk to their favorite celebrities. Additionally, such a site could end up being a haven for pseudo-experts and scam artists who would use the shield of the Internet to bilk gullible users.

Beyond that, I think that the whole concept underscores what I believe is an unfortunate and dehumanizing side of e-commerce and the Internet.

With the advent of the first newsgroups and chat rooms, many people began hiding under the veil of anonymity afforded by cyberspace. With the Internet as its shield, a special breed of cowards used ridicule, profanity and even slander to assault people, places and things they didn’t like or agree with.

Additionally, cyber anonymity became a tool for unscrupulous users who wanted to avoid being honest with others about their personal and business lives.

Sterile Interaction

All the same, I believe that the most tragic outcome of promoting sites like Keen.com is that it will only foster even more sterile and untruthful interactions between human beings.

If people mistrust each other so much that they’re afraid to reveal their e-mail addresses and phone numbers, why in the world are they bothering to talk to each other in the first place?

I don’t know about you, but the whole thing just turns me off.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

1 Comment

  • It may be that in some cases anonymity is not appropriate, but when you’re interacting with a diverse world of people, or with an individual you don’t know, maintaining some level of anonymity is common sense. There may be some potentially negative effects of internet anonymity, but there are also a lot of good reasons for maintaining it, especially for guarding against unjust retribution.

    With the ability to be anonymous online, people can also be completely honest about about who they are and what they think – they can introduce new ideas and points of view without inhibition. This is as close to true freedom of speech that most people around the world can come. Consider the following:

    “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority… It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation — and their ideas from suppression — at the hand of an intolerant society.”

    Justice Stevens, McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 1996

    “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.”

    Justice Black, Talley v. California, 1960

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