Author Archives: aestetix

NymRights March 16 meeting notes

Oh hai!

We had a NymRights meeting this past saturday, and wound up covering a lot of important topics.

  • I’ve been talking with Burning Man about their names policy for their Profiles page. It turns out they are open to discussion, so we are now working with them to create a better policy.
  • We’ve decided to create a few use cases for nyms to present at the next IDESG plenary. The use cases we’re covering are “playanyms” (for Burning Man), “gaming avatars”, “adult viewing”, and “human rights issues.” All of those are important, and will set the groundwork for more ideas and education.
  • Started editing the Wiki for use cases:
  • We’ve also decided to change the name of the in-NSTIC group name from “Nym Rights” to “Nym Issues.” This comes after feedback that NymRights takes a position, while Nym Issues is a more neutral term.
  • Finally, we came up with a list of people to reach out to for the next IDESG plenary.

It was a great time, and hopefully we’ll be doing another one next month!

Shmoocon 2013 talk

My Shmoocon talk is finally available for viewing!

Title: Beyond Nymwars

Description: Originally inspired by getting suspended from Google Plus in the #nymwars fiasco, aestetix set out exploring a multitude of facets of both online and offline identity. It turns out that identity touches a lot of topics: trust, security, free expression, and even establishing how and where we exist in society. This talk will cover, with guidance from experts like Carl Jung, both an overview of identity in general, as well as a look at current online identity solutions, where they break, and new proposals to create better solutions.

aestetix’s response to “Burner Profiles”

Tangentially related to NymRights, although this is more my personal opinion and not the view of anyone else involved in NymRights 🙂

Some background: After their ticket lottery fiasco last year, Burning Man decided to implement a “Profiles” system. The idea is, you create a “Burner Profile” with your information in it, including your legal first and last name. When the time comes to buy tickets, you simply log in and purchase it. I suspect this was intended to help cut down on technical issues, among other things. However, I had some issues with it which I expressed in this email:

“Dear Burning Man,

Now that the Burner Profiles are public, I’ve seen a lot of comments about them, in the Burning Man blog and otherwise. It’s interesting how many viewpoints there are, both for and against. The truly remarkable element to me is that there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground: people are either fervently opposed, or ardently in favor of it. As we all know, pushing things to the extreme doesn’t serve anyone well, so I decided to try and take a more balanced look at it.

First, the obvious benefits. There is definitely a lot of convenience to this. Within the community, there is talk of how it could become an online portal for me to keep track of news updates, make friends, etc. If I’m a Burning Man executive, it makes it easier to make educated decisions on crowd control related issues (“how many port-o-potties will we need this year?”). And when things go sour, it could help Burning Man cooperate with law enforcement– if “Sky Phoenix” commits domestic assault on the playa and nobody knows how to find him, there’s a chance law enforcement could consult the profiles system and bring on due process. That might freak out some people, but it does create a system of accountability in many ways– assuming, of course, there’s a proper security audit. According to one blog comment, there’s also the perceived benefit of being able to keep up with playa friends off the playa. Whether or not these are *actually* Burning Man’s plans, people seem to be confusing “Burner Profile” with ”Facebook Profile” and drawing conclusions.

Now then, some of the downsides. I saw quite a few of the crazies coming out and saying Burning Man is trying to use this to track people, and even spy on them. My response to that is that perhaps they should get involved as a volunteer, wherein they will discover the Org is spending enough time trying to make things happen, that there is no time left to be a secret police or whatever. There’s a concern I actually agree with a bit more, in that keeping a dataset like this does create an opportunity for law enforcement or government subpoena. I can’t predict when or why that would happen, but given the political climate we’re living in– ask Google or Facebook how many subpoenas they get– it’s inevitable.

On to the primary reason I don’t like it, will not use it, and it may impact my decisions on whether to ever return to Burning Man (I’ve been four times). The mandatory collection of legal names, IMHO, sets a dangerous precedent for a community hitherto known for its autonomy and “freedom.” As one of the creators of NymRights, I’ve been watching closely as a number of online social networking sites (Google, Facebook, etc) have forced a rigid naming standard onto their user base. While I understand that, as a company, either of them has the ability to lawfully set policies and terms of service as they desire, there’s a more general social loss when naming standards of any type are forced upon a people.

When I have spoken publicly on identity issues, I often cite stories from Genesis, such as Adam naming the animals and the Tower of Babel: the former demonstrates that by creating names and labels for animals, Adam establishes a power dynamic over them, often cited as Adamic language wherein the true name of God exists; the latter explores an angry Old Testament God/YHWH, bitter that people are trying to become His equal, who responds by destroying the language gestalt everyone has and removing peoples abilities to talk with each other, thus ending the efforts of Babel. While those are fables from thousands of years ago, I think their meanings still hold relevance: language is an inherent part of how we perceive and interact with the world, and the language we use to define ourselves, our names, creates in many ways a core of our own identity.

So imagine my dismay when not only did I see mandatory legal names on the Profiles page, but also saw the framing of “First Name” and ”Last Name.” I feel that both the mythology that defines a culture and the language used to teach it are crucial to understanding beyond a cursory and playful dabble what “we” are really all about. When we bring the outside doctrine of legal names into the fold, in my opinion there is a culture and context clash which, while it may not be evident at first, can create a dynamic in which an identity that many Burners (and others) have created for themselves over many years is suddenly cast aside and devalued. While I understand that our current “real life” culture is so broken that most people are unaware that such contexts could even exist, I have higher hopes for people who create one of the most important events for self-exploration of which I am aware.

Do we tell new Burners that their “playa name” is a joke, and that its the name on their ID that actually matters? What kind of culture will that breed in five or ten years? Will it continue to creatively redefine all kinds of beautiful things, or fold back into the pale of “how things are supposed to be?” This is my chief concern. I don’t expect many people to understand this, especially not law enforcement or “muggles”, but I hope that within the Burning Man Org, there may be someone who can listen.


Slides from Shmoocon!

I am back from Shmoocon! The talk went very well, got a lot of great feedback, and several people told me that they now plan to join NSTIC! While the slides are wanting for actual information (they are visual supplements), the full talk (video and possibly audio) will be posted as soon as I get a copy of it. Yay!

What is a “nym”?

What is a “nym?” This is probably the single most common question I hear. It makes sense, as “NymRights” advocates for enabling free speech for nyms, but doesn’t define them. The answer is still up for some debate.

In the general vernacular, “nym” is the shortened form of “pseudo-nym.” When I explain that to most people, there’s a general understanding, and a relation with internet names, handles, and so on. However, I like to extend it out a bit more, by demonstrating that pretty much *any* name can be a “nym”. Here are some examples I’ve used in my public talks:

  • autonym: a name or symbol that is bestowed upon oneself. Compare to the word “autonomy.”
  • polynym: multiple words or symbols. For example, “David Brown.”
  • mononym: a single word or symbol. For example, “David.”
  • anonym: a name or symbol representing anonymity. For example, when a user makes a comment on Slashdot without logging in, they are given the name “Anonymous Coward”.

These are just a few elaborations. As it turns out, pretty much anyone with a name is affected by nyms, we just need to do more outreach and education!

Update from the Phoenix Plenary

Weeeeee’re back!

Thanks to the support of several people involved in IDESG (especially Bob Blakely), I was able to make the Phoenix IDESG plenary (large group discussion) for the first day. Thanks to interest from multiple parties (especially the Privacy Committee) we were able to have a four hour long discussion about NymRights and potential integration within NSTIC.

Among those joining the discussion in our group were myself, Eno, Angelique, Kaliya Hamlin, Bob Blakely, Jim Elste, Brett McDowell, and several others who I can’t remember. It was a very productive and educational discussion. We covered topics including but not limited to:

  • #nymwars (turns out most people still don’t know about that!)
  • Some terminology clarification– for example, “legal name” as opposed to “real name”
  • use cases, and examples of real, regular people who need or otherwise use nyms
  • How names are legally handled in the US versus other countries– the German law for pseudonyms came up, as well as McIntyre vs Ohio Election Commissions.
  • How NymRights might fit into IDESG/NSTIC.

After lots of discussion, pretty much everyone agreed that NymRights *is* an important issue to take into account, and we moved to step 2, figuring out how to integrate it within IDESG. This is going to be a much longer process, as there are many moving parts. But the good news is, we made progress, and people are listening!