Saturday, May 17, 2014

Privacy for Germans: rename all to Haensel & Gretel Mueller?

In the wake of the Great Loss of Privacy (our words), many great and not so great minds have been discussing solutions.

Ever more complicated passwords, stopping bits at the border, better hardware, hyper-encryption, perfect forward and perfect sideways secrecy, these are just a some of the suggestions.

We have another one: rename every citizen of the country to Haensel or Gretel Mueller, or, in nerd speak, security through obscurity on a national scale.

It really is nothing more than the logical extension of the J. Smith phenomenon, says an American expert. Societies have been struggling with having many millions of Smiths, Muellers, Huongs, and the like, why not exploit the obvious privacy advantage of it?

For governments, the name of an individual is no longer important, we have unique indentifiers like social security numbers, tax ids, driver's license ids that do a better job than the old name or name plus birthday schemes.

In some Asian countries you are already experiencing that a nation with a handful of surnames works fine, so our Germany proposal would extend the benefit of this to everyone.

Experts say there are no downsides but a tremendous number of upsides.

A common name could promote a feeling of community and pride. In this democracy, everybody would sort of be president or chancellor, would be a famous actor or scientist.
Imagine Bild Zeitung headlines like "The nobel prize for literature goes to Gretel Mueller!"

The intrinsic disadvantages of surnames like Schweinhund would go away, name calling and bullying would stop. Integrating immigrants would be a no-brainer. Haensel Mueller instead of Muhamed Mueller would end xenophobia.

And the scientifically proven detrimental psychological effects of having a surname starting at the end of the alphabet instead of the beginning, say Will vs. Anders, would be wiped out.

Use of PA systems would drop significantly. Airport announcements wouldn't be needed for the Muellers - Herr and Frau Mueller, please come to Gate 22, nonsense. If you don't know where you want to go, don't fly!

Gone are the awkward social moments of "I'm sorry, I know we have been introduced, but could you tell me your name again?" Instead imagine the confident "hey, Haensel, dude, how are you!"

Out in the street, gagdets like GeeBeerGoogles or a smartphone would instantly tell you which of the many Muellers you are seeing. Picture the pleasant surprise when an unknown Mueller's question mark placeholder on your retina is replaced with the word "Dad"!

The somewhat struggling free "who is this person" internet directory sites would see business explode and could charge big money.

The father of the idea, obviously only a male could come up with this, acknowledges what he calls a couple of minor issues. We are not sure about what to do with middle names but will most likely simply abolish them. Nicknames are bigger problem, we cannot have people use nicknames because that undermines the security.

But hey, Germans would finally embrace Facebook's real name policy!

Once the names have been unified, we are looking at a similar approach for the date of birth. A working paper has been drafted and it proposes that every German can freely pick a birthday as long as it is within the year he or she was born in.

There is also the idea of introducing a premium birthday, or as some call it, a vanity birthday. When you pick a birthday for historical reasons, such as the 4th of July if you were a U.S. citizen, you'd pay a fee to the government or the private company which will surely handle these administrative issues in the future.

For example, you could have the same birthday as Angelina Jolie, wouldn't that be nice? Of course, if you pick the birthday of a German celebrity and the celebrity then changes her birthday under the new law, there would not be a refund.

Will society not suffer from a loss of individuality?

If you remove the disadvantages of names, you can still ensure people can express their individuality through other traditional means, like clothing, jewelry, or cars, sports, music, art. Renaming may create a greater emphasis on alternatives, hence boosting consumption and economic growth.

On a grand scale, the future looks even brighter. An EU wide adoption of the practice could create untold new opportunities once the EU settles on a name.

Shouldn't be difficult.

At that point, you could easily distinguish legal residents from tourists and illegal immigrants.  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, everybody takes the surname "Dupont". A polite request that "everybody named Dupont raise their hands" would give away the newly arrived illegals as they would not raise hands, right? Sure, you could do the facial recognition thing but we really wanted a Dupont joke here.

The benefit of this would be you no longer have to single out blacks or middle eastern looking folks and pretend you are not picking on them because of their skin color.

See, there are business opportunities everywhere which also strengthen privacy and security.

[Update] You can use these great examples for your own country-specific solution. Just don't tell anybody where you found it. Google is gonna forget this soon.

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