The internet still wants to be anonymous

And that puts Facebook in a tricky spot

(Image credit: (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images))

As Facebook ascended to the throne of social networks, it quickly became something the internet hadn't quite known at that point: a digital ID card.

It seems silly now, just seven years later, but before the rise of Facebook, and MySpace before it, much of your online activity was simply yours. Maybe you had a LiveJournal or a Xanga, but even then how much you revealed about yourself was not left to sign-up pages and privacy controls nearly as much as it was left up to you. Outside of your email address, finding yourself online might as well have been finding yourself in the background of a movie.

With Facebook's venture into syndicated logins ("Log In With Facebook") and similar moves by Twitter, Facebook means to tie in how you present yourself on Facebook with how you present yourself to the rest of the internet — all for the purposes of tailoring ads to as fully developed a profile of you imaginable.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Which makes their recent decision to allow for "anonymous" log-ins all the more confusing. While you will still need an official profile (with a name) to log in to Facebook itself, you can now use Facebook as a mask to easily log in to other sites that allow the service. As screenshots from the f8 developer's conference show, you will even be able to choose a la carte which aspects of your online identity you want apps and sites to have access to, an unparalleled change in how Facebook packages and sells data to developers and advertisers.

However, make no mistake: This is not anonymity from Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg's behemoth can still observe what you're doing when you use this feature — it just won't hand that information over to developers.

While the move might seem like a rebuilding of trust (after Facebook's involvement in the NSA surveillance program or its own fluctuating privacy settings), it is, as should be pretty well assumed by now, simply a grab for yet more data. However, it is a bow from one of the internet's largest players towards the quickly re-anonymizing of the internet.

After a decade of hearing what happens when you don't care for your online identity — whether you're a teacher or a congressman — the other side of the coin is highly in demand. Largely anonymous services like Snapchat are proving more and more worthwhile to teens and adults alike, a trend due to continue with the app's recent inclusion of actual chat. Reddit alone is a revolution unto itself, with strangers talking in open air behind non-identifying usernames, boosting that site to become an odd entity: a social network where no one knows each other.

Even Google — which is arguably in a better place than Facebook to serve as a universal online ID — has struggled to push the notion on its users.

Last fall, Google announced a Google+ account would be required for all of its services, most notoriously YouTube. After months of complaints from users (including the founder of YouTube) who wanted to retain their anonymous accounts, Google will soon end its experiment with integration, even relocating over 1,000 Google+ employees.

And while sites like Twitter and Tumblr give you increasingly more control over how you portray yourself online, Facebook remains a stalwart to even entertaining the idea.

Facebook (more than nearly any other internet company) wants to become legitimized in your daily life, a level of trust they have found shockingly easy to establish. In order to do this, Facebook has required — ever since it launched in 2004 — more information from its users than any non-governmental institution ever has.

And if you're an active user, nearly every facet of your life is bought and sold by Facebook whether you know (or like) it or not.

It's why this move to anonymize syndicated logins is not so strange as it may seem: Facebook wants to hide your data and eat it, too. While Zuckerberg certainly told Wired this was merely a step to earn trust and make users more comfortable, it's little more than an attempt by the aging giant of Web 3.0 to market to an increasingly unmarketable and anonymized internet.

From our friends at The Daily Dot, by Ben Branstetter.

More from The Daily Dot...

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.