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Annual Digital Lecture: The death of anonymity in the age of identity

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The National Archives

Bessant Drive

Richmond

TW9 4DU

United Kingdom

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The Annual Digital Lecture showcases innovative digital research. This year's speaker is Carly Kind, Director of the Ada Lovelace Institute.

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The death of anonymity in the age of identity

The global datafication of economy, society and politics has rendered humans into constellations of datapoints. Technologies measure, monitor, predict and classify to enable personalization in the online and offline worlds alike, and we are increasingly offered bespoke realities: advertising, healthcare, government services, and recommendations uniquely targeted to us. The price is persistent identification: everywhere we go and everything we do is tracked by private and public actors seeking to ‘resolve’ our identities and paint ever more granular pictures of us as both consumers and citizens. The right to remain anonymous is being squeezed out, as we’re asked to handover our identification, our faces, our social media profiles, our email addresses at every turn.

What are the consequences of this death of anonymity? For some, it is a necessary victim in the battle against online hatred and increasing political polarisation. Anonymity has a disinhibiting effect, particularly online, removing social and cultural constraints that might otherwise restrain commentators from making controversial, offensive or harmful remarks. Many have connected the seeming uptick in intolerance, incivility and hate speech to the proliferation of anonymous means of expression that the internet has enabled.

Yet anonymity also enables those in the minority, those who would normally stay silent, to speak out against the status quo without fear of reprisals. Without the protection of obscurity, dissenting views might disappear altogether, and along with them pluralistic societies, as public discourses homogenise, intolerance becomes mainstream, and populist leaders become increasingly emboldened by the absence of criticism.

If, in the words of the US Supreme Court, “anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority… [that protects] unpopular individuals from retaliation… at the hands of an intolerant society”, what does the loss of this value mean for art, political debate, protest, journalism, and education?

Speaker biography

Carly Kind is the Director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, an independent research body and think tank with a mission to ensure data and AI work for people and society. A human rights lawyer and leading authority on the intersection of technology policy and human rights, Carly has advised industry, government and non-profit organisations on digital rights, privacy and data protection, and corporate accountability. She has worked with the European Commission, the Council of Europe, numerous UN bodies and a range of civil society organisations. She was formerly Legal Director of Privacy International, an NGO dedicated to promoting data rights and governance.

Programme:

6:15 Registration

6:30 Lecture starts

7:30 Time for networking, alongside poster exhibition of digital research at The National Archives

8:30 Event Close

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Image reference: The National Archives, CAB 163/230 (1)

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Date and Time

Location

The National Archives

Bessant Drive

Richmond

TW9 4DU

United Kingdom

View Map

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