Occupy Wall Street switching to incognito messaging system

How good is anonymity anyway?


As the protests in the Big Apple and allegations of social media censorship intensified, so did the demonstrators' need to secure a “private” and “anonymous” communication channel.

The purpose would be, on the one hand, to prevent account blocking/deletion and, on the other, to ensure that anyone can freely speak his or her mind without having to worry about being charged for rioting. The Arab spring, British summer and their lesson already proved that “traditional” short messaging systems and other social media applications failed in ensuring such an environment. Many of those days' dissidents and instigators were tracked and indicted based on the messages they sent.

But it didn't take too long for the (appropriate) communication tool to appear. A tiny app that allows an incognito user to send messages with a variable lifespan to recipients placed within a specific radius around the sender (from 160 feet to worldwide).

Solving the anonymity issue is, from the protesters' point of view, extremely benign, as they now can freely communicate and warn each other about the dangers or actions in progress. However, as each coin has two sides, so does namelessness.

Lacking identity (and identification) should raise questions about the credibility of the messages. As no one assumes the voice articulating the warnings and incitements, anyone – from undercover law enforcement representatives to extremists and pranksters – could assume the discourse (with the subsequent consequences, hopefully less dramatic).

Another consequence is that the tool providing the long-awaited obscurity could be hijacked for malicious purposes. Unlike other apps, in this case the ability of tracking down in a crowd of protesters a cybercriminal posting links towards Web pages allegedly related to the current events (but actually spreading malware) tends to zero.

Should protesters think twice before taking for granted what they read (or could be asked to click) on their smartphone's app?


Safe surfing everybody!

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About the author


With a humanities passion and background (BA and MA in Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest) - complemented by an avid interest for the IT world and its stunning evolution, I joined in the autumn of 2003 the chief editors' team from Niculescu Publishing House, as IT&C Chief Editor, where (among many other things) I coordinated the Romanian version of the well-known SAMS Teach Yourself in 24 Hours series. In 2005 I accepted two new challenges and became Junior Lecturer at the Faculty of Letters (to quote U2 - "A Sort of Homecoming") and Lead Technical Writer at BluePhoenix Solutions.

After leaving from BluePhoenix in 2008, I rediscovered "all that technical jazz" with the E-Threat Analysis and Communication Team at BitDefender, the creator of one of the industry's fastest and most effective lines of internationally certified security software. Here I produce a wide range of IT&C security-related content, from malware, spam and phishing alerts to technical whitepapers and press releases. Every now and then, I enjoy scrutinizing the convolutions of e-criminals' "not-so-beautiful mind" and, in counterpart, the new defensive trends throughout posts on www.hotforsecurity.com.

Balancing the keen and until late in night (please read "early morning") reading (fiction and comparative literature studies mostly) with Internet "addiction", the genuine zeal for my bright and fervid students with the craze for the latest discoveries in science and technology, I also enjoy taking not very usual pictures (I'm not a pro, but if you want to see the world through my lenses, here are some samples http://martzipan.blogspot.com), messing around with DTP programs to put out some nifty book layouts and wacky t-shirts, roaming the world (I can hardly wait to come back in the Big Apple), and last but not least, driving my small Korean car throughout the intricacies of our metropolis's traffic.