As the joke goes, on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. But although anonymity has been part of Internet culture since the first browser, it’s also a major obstacle to making the Web a safe place to conduct business: Internet fraud and identity theft cost consumers and merchants several billion dollars last year. And many of the other more troubling aspects of the Internet, from spam emails to sexual predators, also have their roots in the ease of masking one’s identity in the online world.
Change, however, is on the way. Already over 20 million PCs worldwide are equipped with a tiny security chip called the Trusted Platform Module, although it is as yet rarely activated. But once merchants and other online services begin to use it, the TPM will do something never before seen on the Internet: provide virtually fool-proof verification that you are who you say you are.
There are some definite benefits to keeping track of users: online transactions and cracking down on cyber crime come to mind. However, one of the attractions of the ‘net has always been the anonymity associated with it. Even is discussion forums, chat rooms and instant messaging, we have anonymous identifiers like “cyber guy” or “user456.”
If these TMP chips are such a good idea, how come we’re only hearing about them now? Which of the computers out there have this chip? It sounds like they’re assuming that the chips can’t be modified; recent experience with the XBox would indicate otherwise. What about a crime committed by one user, on another’s computer? I think we’re opening Pandora’s box here and things may get kind of muddy for a while.