When you are online, you can’t hide. Everything you do – every page you load, every query you type — helps Facebook, Google and the CIA build a profile of you. Instead of trying to hide, why not confuse the trackers? Give them too much information about yourself, information that is misleading and overwhelming with details. Some of your true activities will be in the huge amount of information you supply, but hackers, facebook, NSA, and other spies won’t be able to figure out what is real and what is bogus. Obfuscation seems to be more effective than trying to hide.
For instance, AdNauseam is a web browser plug-in that invisibly clicks every ad on every page you visit, baffling ad networks. As you visit different sites AdNauseam silently clicks every ad on every page. (You won’t see the extra pages as AdNauseam hides them from you but does allow spies to see the results.) The idea is that if you’re always clicking every ad, the targeting and tracking that these advertising companies are doing won’t work or be as effective because you are overwhelming them with false data. All this clicking of ads is “invisible” to you, the user, but supplies all sorts of bogus information to the spy networks whenever you do a search.
Another web browser plug-in, called TrackMeNot, sends a stream of fake queries in the background, such as “conan o’brien” and “watch tokyo samsung.” Google and Bing therefore cannot easily profile you accurately. Again, you won’t see the results but the spy networks will.
This is “obfuscation,” and it is a fascinating development in online surveillance. It isn’t new; the British deliberately broadcast all sorts of fake war plans during World War II to keep the Nazis guessing which plan was the real thing.
Obfuscation is a great tool for the individual to fight back against the organizations that track you and try to profile you. You exploit your adversaries’ inherent weakness: their insatiable appetite for data. The key to obfuscation, says Vincent Toubiana, a developer of TrackMeNot, “is to create noise.”
Obfuscation doesn’t curtail online tracking. To really hide from, say, a repressive government, you need unbreakable encryption. However, obfuscation will greatly confuse ad trackers and governments alike, keeping them from knowing “the real you.”
TrackMeNot may be found at https://cs.nyu.edu/trackmenot/.