Roland Dürre
Wednesday November 1st, 2017

About Authenticity and Identity in a Real and Virtual World.

 

A Tightrope Walk

 

Stone mask from the pre-ceramic New Stone Age around 7,000 before Christ. One of the world’s oldest masks (Musée Bible et Terre Sainte, Paris)

In this article, I formulate ideas I got during my current work on “block-chain technologies” in general and “crypto currencies” like Bitcoin in particular. Actually, my own ideas rather surprised me. Because many things that had not been clear to me before have become clear during the process.

Let me start with terminology: WORLD, REAL and VIRTUAL.

For me the WORLD is all that is around me – humans, social systems, … My dealings with the WORLD are through interactions and transactions. My activities not only touch me, but also instances from WORLD. On the other hand, events from WORLD also concern and touch me.

For me, the REAL world is always what I can see, touch, feel, experience. Or what I can eat. The same is true for the firewood I feed into my oven in order to get a cosy warmth in the room. The warmth from the central heating was also REAL for me. After all, I know its origin, which is either from the outside as long-distance heating or from my basement. Even money was REAL for me – but is that true?

I would say that everything I could picture myself was the REAL world for me. But newspapers were also REAL for me, and the same was true for telephone conversations. Even watching TV was part of the REAL world for me. Is that still the case?

The VIRTUAL world included what was “socially” offered, along with the products of the digital WORLD, the creation of which I myself took part in. There is no need to go as far as a mental concept of “second life“ or similar things. My first VIRTUAL worlds were forums and chat rooms where diverse, often technological, topics were discussed.

Today, social media, such as twitter, facebook and many more, could do that job. Or is all of this also REAL?

Let us now consider the terms AUTHENTICITY and IDENTITY. The first thing I learned here was how careless I (and our entire society) treat the term IDENTITY. I used to believe that the identity of a person is a singular thing. At least as far as the VIRTUAL world is concerned, this is nonsense. Because (so far) you have anonymity in the virtual world.

Anonymity means that 
a person or a group cannot be identified. If you want more or less the same meaning as anonymous, you can also say incognito. You will also find unknown, camouflaged and nameless (Wikipedia 10/2017).

Consequently, a person who wants to hang around in the internet “anonymously” (for instance as a bitcoin owner in the respective money community) needs more than one identity! He will need more or less one for every purpose. There is always only one person behind all these identities. It is one unique and undoubted existence. But none of the identities will lead to it. So there are singular images of the “authentic person” leading to diverse identities, but no way back – i.e. it is impossible to find the person behind the scene through the identity. I find that rather exciting!

For me, authentity is something like an exceptional form of identity, i.e., the unique and true “original identity” that is hidden behind several identities. Incidentally, I cannot find the term AUTHENTITY in Wikipedia, but I can find Authenticity. Since it is so important for the topic I discuss, let me cite it:
Authenticity (from gr. αὐθεντικός authentikós “true“; spätlateinisch authenticus “reliable”) concerns the truthfulness of origins, attributes, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions. (Wikipedia 10/2017).

Consequently, I would say that identities are nothing but anonymous alias instances for one singular authentic instance that I would call authentity. In the VIRTUAL world, they are just masks or Avatars . The owner of the mask/avatar remains anonymous and you cannot find out who he/she is, yet he “automatically” (guaranteed through technology and algorithm) has ownership of everything that belongs to his mask/avatar as part of the “community”.

For a Bitcoin, you would have the following scenario: all bitcoin owners are part of a special community of identities, all of which are anonymous. The surprising thing about it is: it works (or is supposed to work) through “peer2peer” interaction. So you have no central instance!

However, the used (necessary?) technology costs a lot, which means this currency is rather impractical as a means of payment. Which means that bitcoin will only be used for speculation (betting). On the other hand, what is special about that? After all, more than 90 % (99 %?) of all currency business, such as the exchange between EURO (€) and DOLLAR ($) and vice versa, are only made for reasons of speculation. They have nothing to do with the exchange of goods! Maybe normal money is also a VIRTUAL commodity today?

Back to the topic: I used to believe that my IDENTITY is actually my AUTHENTITY. But now I know better. The opposite is true: in the internet, I hide my AUTHENTITY behind various IDENTITIES. And no way must lead from them to my AUTHENTITY.

The AUTHENTITY is as unique as my DNA. It would be a good “key” (as a biometrical data set), since the probability of two identical DNA’s is practically zero (due to the quasi endless quality of DNA-s.).

So far, for instance, I still have to fill in the registration form at all hotels, i.e., I must give my surname, first name, place of birth, nationality, home address and passport number. As an entity, these data make me uniquely identifiable. I testify to their truthfulness by showing my passport and giving my signature. …
🙂 The hotel, too, has an address, although it would probably be more precise (and easier?) to just take the GPS coordinates.

But let us go step by step and start with the REAL world: the first thing I did was look for “truly anonymous identities” in the REAL world.

Here are the examples I found:

  • Numbered account: 
Formerly, and especially in Switzerland, it was possible to open an anonymous bank account. The account only had a number, but the bank did not know who owned the account (and the money deposited on it). Legitimation happened by giving a number (cipher). And everyone who visited the bank branch and had the account number and cipher could (anonymously) draw money from the account. It worked quite well for many decades.
  • Classified advertisements
    Formerly, you could publish classified ads, for instance personal ads, anonymously in daily papers. You had a cipher and said cypher was assigned to a key. With this key, the incoming replies were correlated with the advertisements (through the cipher).
    🙂 I remember how, at school in the 1960ies, we (especially the girls) were warned against marriage frauds that took advantage of this anonymity …
  • Car number plates, telephone numbers … 
If you think of traffic, car number plates come to mind. They, too, used to be anonymous – although there was a central agency (some kind of “man-in-the-middle“) who knew who was hidden behind the number plate. Today, only number plates for cars driven by federal security agencies and similar institutions are anonymous – even the police has no way of getting hold of them. The same used to be true for telephone numbers. Of course, the postal service, as “man-in-the-middle” knew who was hidden behind the telephone number. But if you had a good reason, you were not listed in the telephone book and could basically only be traced by being called.
  • Prepaid and Email 
In the REAL world, you could remain anonymous thanks to prepaid cards. And you could also open an email account without giving any personal information. But is that the definition of the VIRTUAL world? As I see it, there is currently a huge process of change, at least in Germany. These things can be done less and less easily. 
They want the darknet in the VIRTUAL world (?) to make less and less accessible. But that is not something I personally know. I would have to investigate in order to find out more.

So:
Currently, I cannot think of any existing anonymities established through identities in the REAL world. On the contrary: in my perception, ANONYMITY is not desired in the REAL world – and consequently it has been/is being more or less totally abolished by the legislators and the administration.

But then, is not the VIRTUAL world part of the REAL world? And isn’t the VIRTUAL world rather schizophrenic? On the one hand, everyone dreams of “anonymous currencies and communities” and on the other hand they do everything to abolish anonymity!

For instance, the postal service advertises its POSTIDENT-service, which, basically, has one goal: to abolish anonymity in the VIRTUAL world, as well.


Close to the customer – tailor-made identity management!

Here is the individual legitimation check for your customers – now online!
The Deutsche Post offers the tailor made identification concept for your business model. With our online and offline POSTIDENT method for legitimacy control, we identify your customers quickly, securely and without violating the statutes Geldwäschegesetz and Datenschutz (postal advertising).


Isn’t that hot stuff? Note that they use words such as – identity concept and legitimacy control.

But regardless, the service – which is definitely questionable and easy to abuse – is used by many internet providers who want to know who they are really dealing with.

For me, the following questions arise:

Isn’t it paradox if anonymity is completely abolished in the REAL world but can flourish in the VIRTUAL world? Regardless of the fact that the VIRTUAL world is basically part of the REAL world?

What if technological leaders like CHINA abolish anonymity? Would not the consequence be that, through the technology we import from them, we automatically forfeit our anonymity?

What sense does it make if the functionality of the “good old Swiss numbered account” is again realized through anonymous crypto currencies? Do we even want that to happen? Or isn’t it just a question of time before, for instance, the bank secret, too, will soon no longer be socially trendy?

Is it not so that the entire affair is just a special tool for speculation – just like “betting in the internet” becomes more and more popular and is already a massive business as far as turnover and profit are concerned?

As I see it, these issues should be discussed in the context of social ethics. But what do we do? We establish an ethics commission that deals with artificial intelligence and driverless cars. Yet we do not discuss the important question whether or not we should leave certain parts of society anonymous. We make noises about absurd data protection laws and get enthusiastic about it, although we know full well that it will not work in the way it was demanded, and in doing so, we get lost in a network of rules and laws that paralyze us and from which there will probably eventually be no rescue.

Incidentally, the solution to this problem is rather simple in my concept:
As soon as we have a (world-wide) guaranteed rule of law, anonymity is no longer needed. That is also true for an anonymous currency.

If and as long as, however, the rule of law is threatened or non-existent, we are well advised to keep “anonymous areas”.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
Now I hope what I said is more or less understandable. I would not wish to have confused you with AUTHENTITY and IDENTITY. And as a post scriptum, here is another story:
In my carelessness, it happened that my purse was stolen from me early this spring in Athens when I was riding an underground train. It contained EVERYTHING. Consequently, I also had to apply for a new passport. They asked me if I wanted it with my digital signature. It is free whenever you apply for a new passport, whereas, if you want it later, you need to pay 20 € extra.
Naturally, I asked what advantages this digital signature would have for me. My advisor at the municipality was unable to come up with very much – except a strange professional register the purpose of which remained unclear to me.
So I asked him if the signature would at least be an option for the electronic tax declaration (Elster). When he said no, I declined – perhaps out of defiance – and I believe this decision will not be detrimental.