THE BLOG

Demand Your Anonymity - Even if You're Having an Affair

23/07/2015 09:33 BST | Updated 22/07/2016 10:59 BST

People value their anonymity more than ever before. They've realised their online lives can be heavily documented and are beginning to feel chastened by what is being recorded. The next logical step then is to go completely anonymous online. This is fine until websites can't keep up their side of the bargain.

Whatever the reason people wish to protect their online identities, the recent Ashley Madison hack proves that they have let their users down. This is not the first time this has happened - now defunct app, Secret, was hacked last August.

The most critical thing about this hack is the scale. Reports suggest that the UK's 1.2 million users have had everything from credit card details to sexual fantasies stolen - meaning there is more to this than a little embarrassment.

Websites, services and apps need to prove they can keep their promises and look after their customers. This has to be a priority.

It's clear that anonymity and privacy have to be central to any product. So how do we do this? With a common anonymity standard that should be adopted throughout all technology services.

This is not a unique demand. Last year, Sir Tim Berners-Lee called for "a global constitution, a bill of rights" for the internet. He has promoted this through his campaign, The Web We Want. This, of course, is not unlike a bill of rights which David Cameron is so keen to introduce.

The Conservatives' plan to replace the Human Rights Act in favour of a British Bill of Rights provides a perfect opportunity to introduce digital elements. Sadly, the Tories do not seem to position privacy as a priority, and necessary pro-consumer change seems far off. However, it is obvious we should be looking to secure anonymity as a baseline for all future web developments.

While politicians have seemingly failed us, ironically it has been left to the large corporations to see the opportunities in safeguarding anonymity. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently attacked rival companies' privacy policies that monetise user data for advertising purposes. A brand positioning exercise, of course, but Apple's "privacy built-in" initiative is leading the charge. Of course it cannot be forgotten that it was Apple whose iPhone presents "total access" to the NSA, according to one security researcher and Edward Snowden's lawyer.

It's great that tech companies are at least talking about privacy, but they shouldn't be seen as the sole, compliant arbiter of anonymity online. Consumers use countless online services and gadgets - we should be demanding that anonymity and privacy should be baked in at the core.

The future of digital privacy is uncertain. It could follow a similar system to the above, a commonly-understood framework for what it really means to be anonymous across the digital spectrum. But the companies aren't going to offer it for nothing - the people, whether having affairs or just valuing privacy, must demand it.

Kassem is CEO of anonymous messaging app, Thoughts Around Me