Reply All: # 94 Obfuscation
April 14, 2017 9:26 AM - Subscribe

This week, we debut a new segment designed to help you calibrate your anger in a changing world. Plus, how to cloak yourself from all the people who are now allowed to see your internet browsing history.
posted by jazon (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I really enjoyed “Why Is Everybody So Mad and Do I Have to Be Mad Also?” and its great theme song!
posted by ellieBOA at 12:15 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I shouted at the "radio"* at lot while listening to this. The obliviousness of our intrepid podcasters was very strong -- imagine being able to buy the network history of your adversary in an ugly divorce or a custody dispute? Activists also seem pretty vulnerable.


*I was in the car. The podcast emanated from the radio.
posted by janell at 10:33 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


imagine being able to buy the network history of your adversary in an ugly divorce or a custody dispute? Activists also seem pretty vulnerable.

They didn't get into this, it's true, but from what I've read elsewhere the idea that ISPs will offer to sell any specific person's history upon request is not very likely. It seems to be a far out worst possible scenario. What is more likely is things like the podcast mentions, more inserts of targeted ads interfering with your web viewing. Or more big data mining like political parties have already been doing, where they may know more about "User #103984-123232" but won't necessarily be able to connect that user profile to you.

The detail I feel they missed, but is super important, is that what Congress did doesn't just prevent the privacy rules coming into force, it prevents the FCC from ever passing those rules again. That's truly insane, that somehow we can't even get a saner Congress in place and redo this?
posted by dnash at 8:13 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Wow, did not realise the FCC would be banned from undoing the legislation! That's insane.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:06 AM on April 18


If you are concerned about this issue, write to your state representatives and ask them to create or support a bill at the state level to implement these restrictions for residents of your state (such as this bill in MN). I sent an email last week and just got a reply from one of state reps that she is co-sponsoring such a bill.
posted by bq at 1:30 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


They also didn't spend much time pointing out that search engines, ad networks, and the US Government is already doing this on a large scale. And while it's true Google doesn't see *all* your traffic, it's also true that unlike your ISP they see the contents of all your encrypted queries, which is arguably more revealing than what your ISP knows. Combining the two, of course, is even worse, and seems not terribly unlikely. Restricting ISPs is a major step in the right direction, but it's hardly a game-changer when it comes to privacy. (Which, I'd argue, is the reason we should be mad. Even trivial, obviously right steps toward slightly better privacy are thwarted.)

I was pleased to see that trackmenot has improved a lot since they first made the news a decade ago, and they've addressed many of the problems that would have made identifying their searches trivial in the original version. It still seems like a terrible waste of bandwidth, and it's not clear it will do anything to hamper specific filtering for search terms by the government unless millions of people use it and leave the DHS keywords turned on. But, screwing with targeted advertising is one place where it actually could be useful.

I installed it to take a look at the dynamically generated query lists. To a human, most of the news RSS feed generated ones don't look much like actual search queries, e.g. "France goes polls amid tight security following paris attack" and "Korea threatens australia with nuclear strike over toeing line with u.s." Some are better, as are, for obvious reasons, the popular search terms, e.g., "IBM softlayer" and "Old Navy Coupon."

If I were going to buy ads targeting people who like winning athletes and news-making television shows, this would certainly poison my lists. On the other hand, if I were buying ads targeting people who have herpes and live in NYC, I'm not sure this would lead to much obfuscation. If I were a government employee looking for people who have used Tor in the last month and also searched for direct-action protests events in Tulsa before they made the news, it wouldn't do anything at all.
posted by eotvos at 5:27 AM on April 23


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