Colloquium of the Institute of European Ethnology/Cultural Anthropology/ University Hamburg

Anonymous and confidential?! Practices dealing with identity and identifiability in data infrastructure.“ // „Anonym und streng vertraulich?! Praxisformen im Umgang mit Identität und Identifizierbarkeit in Dateninfrastrukturen“

Summer Term 2017 | Wednesdays 6-8 PM, Room 220 (Edmund-Siemers-Allee 11, ESA West)

Chair: Anna Henke

Everyone knows quite well this phrase: „Be assured that your personal data will be processed anonymously and confidentially“ – it emerges by accepting the terms and conditions of the new downloaded app, by completing a scientific study, using the cashless payment or during a health check-up. What we observe is an ambivalent rise of anonymity due to increasingly ubiquitous digitalisation and inter-linking, that simultaneously – and paradoxically – might lead to heightened risk of limited or even impossible anonymity for a specific person. Each particular digital communication produces data that can be tracked and stored. As a result, submerging in(to) the web is restricted to those having special knowledge of the underlying infrastructures given a society that has proclaimed the „Imperative of Transparency” (Koch 2016).

Hence, this is not about a form of unavailability due to namelessness (cf. Nissenbaum 1999) but first and foremost about the hindrances to the interlinking of diverse attributes and their traceability in relation to a certain person (Marx 1999; Wallace 1999). The aim is a „non-recognizability“, a „being untrackable“ (Matthews 2010), that is to say the recognition and non-recognition of various social identities.

Anonymity, however, is a double-edged sword: on the one hand side, it offers a safe space for basic values that have emerged in the Enlightenment, such as liberty, equality and justice, it might prevent discrimination and it can pave the way for solidary systems such as blood donations or collective health insurance. On the other hand side, it proves to be a loophole for hate speech, attacks and assaults and thereby brings about questions regarding responsibility and its legal, ethical and social notions as well as established power relations.

This is why anonymity is one of the key issues of contemporary society. The colloquium aims to break down and decipher the phenomena: which societal (multi) layers, potentials and forms of social practice emerge by handling identity and identifiability?

The focus is on interdisciplinary experts from computer science, culture anthropology and experts who actively deal with questions of anonymity in their daily business and we want them to have their say thereby allowing us insights into the desideratum that anonymity is.

The colloquium will be held in German.

The lectures done so far:

Walter Diart (Hamburger Behörde) „Transparenzportal Deutschland – zum Transparenzgesetz und der open data policy“

Prof. Dr. Hannes Federrath (Universität Hamburg)

Cybersecurity und Datenschutz – wie kritische Infrastrukturen und IT-Sicherheit zusammengehen

Prof. Dr. Maaß (Universität Bremen)

Privacy by Participatory Design. Erfahrungen bei der Entwicklung einer Nachbarschaftsplattform mit älteren Menschen

31. Mai 2017

Dr. Martina Klausner (Humboldt Universität Berlin)
Figuring out „Reasonable Expectations“ of Data Protection and Privacy: An ethnographic case study of a therapeutic monitoring system.


14. Juni 2017

Prof. Dr. Ingrid Schneider (Universität Hamburg)
Big Data für die Gesundheit – wem nützt es? Chancen und Risiken von Big Data in der Medizin


28. Juni 2017

Dr. Thilo Hagendorff (Universität Tübingen)
Kontrolle und Freiheit – identitätstheoretische Überlegungen im Zusammenhang mit digitalen Medien, die Frage nach dem sukzessiven Verlust der informationellen Privatheit oder die permanente „Ausgesetztheit“ gegenüber digitalen Technologien


5. Juli 2017

Dr. Carsten Ochs (Universität Kassel)
Vom Ancien Régime zur soziodigitalen Figuration: Eine Genealogie informationeller Privatheitspraktiken. (Arbeitstitel)


12. Juli 2017

Abschlusssitzung: Q&A mit dem CTO Matthias Lau von LifeTime Filmsession und Ausklang mit Institutssommerfest

All presentations and recorded materials (Lectures to go) can be provided by Anna Henke (



Koch, G. (2016). Ethnografie digitaler Infrastrukturen. In G. Koch (Ed.), Digitalisierung.

Theorien und Konzepte für die empirische Kulturforschung. Konstanz; München: UVK Verlag, S. 107-126.

Matthews, S. (2010). Anonymity and the Social Self. American Philosophical Quarterly, 47(4), 351-363.

Marx, G. T. (1999). What’s in a Name? Some Reflections on the Sociology of Anonymity. The Information Society, 15(2), 99-112.

Niewöhner, J./Sorensen, E./Beck, S. (2012) Einleitung. In: Niewöhner, J./Sorensen, E./Beck, S. (Ed.), Science and Technology Studies – Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung aus sozial- und kulturanthropologischer Perspektive. Bielefeld: Transcript, S. 9-48.

Nissenbaum, H. (1999). The Meaning of Anonymity in an Information Age. The Information Society, 15, 141-144.

Wallace, K. A. (1999). Anonymity. Ethics and Information Technology, 1, 23-35.