Privacy or anonymity? - Which is more important in the digital era?

Privacy or Anonymity - Which is more important in the digital age?

Technology is evolving quicker than most peoples’ ability to understand it; therefore it is increasingly critical to be safe online and to protect ones' personal privacy.  

Privacy and Anonymity are not the same thing. However, they do get confused with one another regularly so it is important to tell one from the other.

Terminology explained...



Pirivacy is when nobody is aware of what you are doing but potentially they know your identity.

Privacy relates to content. Refraining from the public eye and maintaining confidentiality. If you send an encrypted email to a friend so only the two of you can open it, this is private. It is not public.

Another form of privacy could be to register with a cloud storage provider such as drop box. This will mean people will know who you are but as long as you have encrypted the files, and only you have the key to decrypt those files, then the data is private. In this situation, you have privacy.



Anonymity is when nobody knows who you are but potentially they know what you are doing.

When one keeps their actions and activities separate from their identity. Where, from a set of all possible number of people, there is an equal probability it could be anybody. This setting could serve for viewing content but not for producing it. Anonymity is having nothing attributed to what you do. To be faceless and nameless. For example you could connect to an anonymizing service like 'Tor' to post a political message under an anonymous user name in a country where this is prohibited. In this instance, you are keeping separate from your identity while making your non-private message. If you connect to the internet via a virtual private network (VPN), potentially you are anonymous, but say you post a message to that website, you are no longer private.

Privacy and Anonymity often get substituted for one another and in the wrong context so it is easy to get confused. It is key to understand the difference as solutions will vary in how they provide privacy or anonymity.

What is Pseudonymity?

Say you choose to use an alias for social media or for a forum online to hide your identity, an adversary may not know who you are but can still attribute posts and activity to you.

This is an alias, a cover, a false identity. This is often referred to as 'pseudonymity'.


Which one is more valuable?

In most countries, people have the right to privacy and anonymity if so wished for and are protected under law. In most countries, stealing ones' private information is against the law. For example, email content is personal information. Saying that, many governments in recent times have had the whistle blown on them for stealing personal information yet it appears they are immune to punishment.

Many people feel their personal privacy is deterioriating; therefore we pursue security to facilitate privacy and anonymity.

Privacy and Anonymity – intangible assets as they are, may rank high in your security estate - and the need for one from the other will be greater or less from one person to the next.

Consider what it is you hold dear enough to protect the most and seek to secure those assets.

This includes your privacy and anonymity as both will determine the level of security you feel to be necessary.

Click Here to find out what the biggest threats are to your security and what you can do to protect yourself and your business.

Huw Tremlett

Data Management Consultant

Huw Tremlett