Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Donations and privacy

The internet enables us to exchange ideas freely and anonymously. It does not however enable us to exchange money freely and anonymously. Governments have strict rules about traceability of money transfers, increasingly so since September 2001, to combat money laundering, tax evasion, and funding of terrorism. As a consequence several of the first users of my new donations button mailed me to tell me that they got a receipt from Paypal with my real name on it. And that receipt, of which I got a copy too, also contains their real name and mailing address, in spite of me having told Paypal that I don't need a shipping address for payments to me.

Now I am not worried about blog readers of mine being able to find out my real name, my privacy concerns were always the other way around: I am a scientist by profession, and the publication of scientific papers and patents under my real name is an important part of my work; thus I want that somebody who searches for my real name in Google finds those scientific publications, and not my game writings. Not that I am ashamed of the game writings, but the sad fact is that I put a lot more work into my thesis and my scientific publications, and a lot less people read those than if I write a stupid rant about a game. Thus unless the searcher uses a specific science search engine, my game writings would crowd out my science writing if I put the same name on the two of them.

What worries me a bit more is the fact that I receive the full name and mailing address of all donors. I checked on Paypal, and there is no way to turn that off. The only thing I can do is promise you that I will keep that information secret, I will never publish a list of my donors or make your address available to anyone else.

I did find information on the internet on how to fake an identity that Paypal would accept, but I'm afraid doing so would actually be illegal in many countries. I could hide my real name on Paypal by upgrading to a business account, but then I would have to provide a ton of information about my "business" which would be traceable as well, and sooner or later the authorities would come knocking on my door asking me why my "business" wasn't officially registered elsewhere. It will be hard enough as it is to find out how to declare blog donations on my tax form next year.

So I'm afraid the situation remains that if you donate money to me, it won't be anonymous, and we will each receive personal information about the other party. I can live with that, I hope it doesn't bother you too much.

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