Monday, April 3, 2017

How the Gate Guard in "Friday Foster" affects my personal privacy (and yours)

I'm going to tell this story backwards.

The entire "Friday Foster" movie can (as of now) be found on YouTube, although I'm not THAT dedicated to my privacy to watch the whole thing.

One of the roles in that movie, Gate Guard, is played by Mel Carter. The danged role doesn't even have a name. And if you check IMDB's verified full cast and crew for this movie, Carter's role is the last one listed.

The role is just fleetingly mentioned in Carter's Wikipedia biography.

Of course, if you check my stats for Monday April 3, you'll see that I listened a lot to Carter's most well-known work, the song "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me." It turns out that this WAS a song that I've heard before. And you've probably heard it also.

The song was number 14 on Billboard's Year-End Hot 100 Singles of 1965. The number five song in the year-end hot 100, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," is one that I know well (both in the 1965 version and in the Human League's subsequent cold, detached version).

But why was I initially interested in the #5 song of 1965? Or the #14 song?

Or an obscure blaxploitation film?

Well, because it was all an attempt to manually obfuscate my search data. Now that I've expressed great interest in Mel Carter's minor role in a 1970s blaxploitation flick, all of the search engine companies and ISPs will be at least a little bit confused about my real interests.

But why do this manually?

Because automated obfuscation systems can be detected:

The problem with these tools and strategies—which are undoubtedly well-intentioned—is that it’s actually pretty hard to generate convincingly realistic-looking noise. After all, most of our online searching doesn’t happen on a rigorously timed schedule of one search every 10 seconds.

What tools? (In hindsight, telling this story backwards is really a pain.)

Dan Schultz, a programmer...[created] a tool called Internet Noise to help people seed their online activity with “noise,” or random web searches and sites that obscure their true browsing habits.

Noisify, a Chrome extension, performs a similar function by generating random searches on your Facebook page, so Facebook knows a little less about what you’re actually looking at or interested in. AdNauseam, another browser extension, will click on lots of ads for you, so any insights about your behavior of buying habits gleaned from these clicks will be largely worthless. Another browser extension, TrackMeNot, generates random web searches, so “actual web searches, lost in a cloud of false leads, are essentially hidden in plain view.”

And why are all of these tools of sudden interest? (I promise you, we're now at the end - or the beginning.)

The House of Representatives has gone along with the Senate and voted 215-205 to overturn a yet-to-take-effect regulation that would have required Internet service providers — like Comcast, Verizon and Charter — to get consumers' permission before selling their data.

And in the view of some, this Congressional action is...

...going backwards.
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