Going Incognito

Anonymity is becoming increasingly valuable in the digital era due to the growing prevalence of surveillance and tracking. Consumers are seeking relief from the pressure to create a personal brand online, and the desire to disappear reflects fatigue with the performative nature of being online. There is a growing trend of anonymous online interactions through apps, websites, and virtual characters, but anonymity can also lead to bad behavior.

This trend originates from the report:


Striving for privacy and invisibility in an age of omnipresent surveillance. In the digital era, anonymity is a privilege. Tracking and surveillance are becoming increasingly prevalent, with brands capturing biometric data and workplaces using productivity tracking software – known derogatorily as “tattleware” or “bossware” – to keep an eye on remote workers.

In fact, a 2022 examination by the New York Times found that eight of the 10 largest private US employers track the productivity metrics of individual workers, many in real time. Meanwhile, governments and law enforcement across the globe, from China to India and the UK, are harnessing facial recognition technology to locate suspects and make arrests. It’s notable that nearly 2 in 5 global consumers (38%) own a wearable device – up from 1 in 4 in 2019 – and that this figure is climbing in nearly all countries surveyed.

The exceptions are Russia and China – arguably two of the most surveilled and authoritarian nations. Consumers want relief from the pressure of creating a visual personal brand. The desire to disappear is not just about safety; it also reflects a fatigue with the performative nature of being online.

It’s why apps and websites where users don’t have to use their real name or image – think reddit, Tumblr and Discord – continue to flourish, while new players like NGL and Sidechat enable users to post and interact anonymously. Meanwhile, Twitch users and VTubers (virtual YouTubers) such as Iron Mouse, who boasts 1.3 million Twitch followers, present themselves online as animated characters, choosing to hide their real identity except for the occasional “face reveal”.

A watchout here is that anonymity can sometimes lead to bad behavior; it’s why 43% globally agree with the statement “nobody should be allowed to be anonymous when using the internet” (up from 39% in 2019), although Gen Z are the least likely generation to agree. As brands begin to experiment with metaverse offerings, the notion of anonymity and its impact on virtual interactions will be an important one to consider..