The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Larsson, Svensson: Compliance or obscurity? Online anonymity as a consequence of fighting illegal file sharing

This paper has been published as: Stefan Larsson and Måns Svensson (2010) Compliance or Obscurity? Online Anonymity as a Consequence of Fighting Unauthorised File-sharing. Policy and Internet 2 (4) 77-105.


Larsson, S., Lund University, Sweden


Online anonymity in a weaker, ”pseudonymous” form, is in many ways the ”normality” of internet behaviour. Any legally enforced identification that breaks this veil of anonymity will have to be well founded in social norms regarding the legitimacy of the actual law not to disrupt this status quo. If not, such initiatives are likely to spur counter-measures en masse related to the diffusion of knowledge of how to strengthen the anonymity online, as well as counter-measures of smaller elites of pro-privacy activists, contributing to an ”obscurer” Internet. Our results indicate an increase of stronger and less traceable online anonymity as one of the consequences of legally enforced de-anonymisation not supported by social norms.

The Mertonian concepts “manifest functions” and “latent dysfunctions” is in the article used to analyse the consequences of recent legislative efforts to stop illegal file sharing. The European Union directive on Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement (Ipred) was implemented in Sweden on April 1st, 2009, and is meant to be the enforcement needed to achieve increased compliance with online copyright legislation. This, therefore, is the manifest function of the directive. An increase in active use of anonymity services, as a result of the implementation, is a latent dysfunction, since it is not intended and it is ”self-defeating” in relation to the purpose of the implementation.

The article focuses on and empirically studies the changes in levels of use of anonymity services (IP VPN encryption services) as a result of Ipred's implementation, and discusses other possible latent dysfunctions. The data is from two surveys of about 1,000 people between 15 and 25 years of age, where the first survey was conducted two months prior to the implementation of Ipred, and the second one seven months afterwards. The actual increase in the use of anonymity services is between 15 and 20 per cent. Those who share files on a daily basis use anonymity services twice as frequently as the average respondent in the first study, and almost three times as frequently in the second study.

Anonymity, pseudonymity, anonymisation, manifest and latent, functions and dysfunctions, illegal file sharing, Ipred, copyright enforcement, IPR Enforcement Directive, encryption, vpn tunnel, sociology of law
Stefan Larsson, Måns Svensson