Tech Tuesday: Fooling Big Brother
Absolutely no one enjoys getting tracked across the internet. We just want to catch up with friends, share meals-music-pictures, play games, read news and events, maybe shop for clothes, new tech toys and so on. Big brother and big corporations are tracking our every movement online and selling the information to anyone who will meet their price tag. People are catching on and fighting back.
One woman began throwing off tracking cookies that dropped cookies in places that didn’t match her interests and threw advertisers off her trail. And her approach demonstrated to her how targeted ads from retailers were working.
Personal data interventionists — those who purposefully change their behaviors to throw off the database — like Hierta can go to great lengths to change the way their data reflect their lives and intentions. Though their methods may be extreme for most, we can learn a lot from their experiments.
We don’t need always need special tools like browser plug-ins to help us experiment with our digital environments. We can start by manipulating the inputs and watching the outputs of our data.
Also popular are cookie blockers, no-tracking browser add-ons, different browsers that mask cookies.
Mat Honan, a writer for Wired, recently took his Facebook experimentation a step further. He wanted to see what would happen if he liked everything that came through his Facebook feed for 48 hours. He wrote, “After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore.” When his friends started to message, worried that his account had been hacked, he also discovered the network effects of his activity on his friends’ feeds.
Honan’s experiment essentially broke the algorithm, rendering Facebook almost unusable. This scale of intervention isn’t practical for most, but we see how being more conscious of what we choose to like (or not) affects the results in our own feeds.
If you really want to stay 100% totally hidden, you can create a whole false identity via http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/. This creates a name, SSN, birthdate, mother’s maiden name, job title, employers, even a car. But if you go this route, you must wipe your hard drive clean and not leave any bits or bytes of your real identity on your computer. DO not check your bank balance or use any of your real information anywhere on that computer.
This is going to an extreme, but big brother and cohorts are too.