Privacy by Obfuscation

In an interesting article on The MIT Press Reader, Finn Brunton & Helen Nissenbaum discuss how opting out of surveillance is practically useless, and suggests to use data obfuscation as a better alternative.

I suggest to read the whole article, that’s really interesting, but I’d also like to share some highlights:

We are surrounded by examples of obfuscation that we do not yet think of under that name. Lawyers engage in overdisclosure, sending mountains of vaguely related client documents in hopes of burying a pertinent detail. Teenagers on social media — surveilled by their parents — will conceal a meaningful communication to a friend in a throwaway line or a song title surrounded by banal chatter. Literature and history provide many instances of “collective names,” where a population took a single identifier to make attributing any action or identity to a particular person impossible, from the fictional “I am Spartacus” to the real “Poor Conrad” and “Captain Swing” in prior centuries — and “Anonymous,” of course, in ours.

We can apply obfuscation in our own lives by using practices and technologies that make use of it, including:

  • The secure browser Tor [2], which (among other anti-surveillance technologies) muddles our Internet activity with that of other Tor users, concealing our trail in that of many others.
  • The browser plugins TrackMeNot [3] and AdNauseam [4], which explore obfuscation techniques by issuing many fake search requests and loading and clicking every ad, respectively.
  • The browser extension Go Rando [5], which randomly chooses your emotional “reactions” on Facebook, interfering with their emotional profiling and analysis.
  • Playful experiments like Adam Harvey’s HyperFace project [6], finding patterns on textiles that fool facial recognition systems – not by hiding your face, but by creating the illusion of many faces.

References

  1. The Fantasy of Opting Out | The MIT Press Reader
  2. The Tor Project
  3. TrackMeNot
  4. AdNauseam
  5. Go Rando | benjamin grosser
  6. Adam Harvey – Hyperface

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