But anonymity is freeing. It lets people go online and read about fringe political viewpoints, look up words they are embarrassed not to know the meaning of, or search for a new job without being thought extremist, stupid or disloyal. In America some judges have recognised that browsing habits will change if people feel that they are being watched. In rejecting a government demand for book-purchase data from Amazon, an online retailer, a judge wrote that the release of the information would create a chilling effect that would “frost keyboards across America”. Librarians have long understood this, which is why they keep readers’ files confidential. But many of the new custodians of people’s reading records do not seem inclined to do the same.
This is The Economist, not Richard Stallman or the EFF: