Monday, December 23, 2013

Announcing prjo

I have been mulling over a problem for a while, and I think I've come up with a possible solution - prjo.

But first, before I describe prjo, let me describe the problem that prjo may solve.

Whether you like it or not, your actions are constantly being tracked. The very fact that you are reading this blog post is being tracked somewhere. The very fact that you are reading a blog post that includes the words "refried beans" is being tracked. (I was going to include the words "pressure cooker," but I was afraid that - whoops, too late.) So you pick up your phone to tell someone about the weird post that you read - that phone call is being logged somewhere. Now completely freaked out, you decide that you should instead use a "pay as you go" phone, which you buy - with a credit card.

Some people worry that governments are tracking all this information. But even if the National Security Agency and all the other government agencies were to close shop, your information would still be tracked on a massive scale. Every company that gives you free stuff (such as Google) captures your data and sells it. Every company that charges you for its services (your phone provider, your operating system provider, your clothing provider) captures your data and sells it.

This is not an entirely bad thing. In the best case scenario, the people who capture the data will use it to provide you with benefits. For example, if you get your lunch every day at Joe's Seaweed Emporium, then perhaps on your next trip to New York, Foursquare will inform you of a really great lunch deal at Juanita's Seaweed Shop in Manhattan.

But there is the worst case scenario - for example, when your health insurance provider peruses your repeated Foursquare checkins at McDonald's, your Facebook pictures at the wine tasting, and your skateboard purchase - and puts you in a high risk category. I've discussed other drawbacks here and here.

So how do you derive the benefits from all of this tracking, yet avoid the negative consequences?

One possible solution is prjo.

The word prjo stands for PRoJect Obfuscation, or an overloading of your lifestream so that it will be difficult for people to use it against you.

For example, let's say that I'm getting my supersized meal at McDonald's, but I don't want my health insurer to use this against me. So, I use my handy-dandy Foursquare app to not only check in to McDonald's, but also to every other business in the area - the bicycle shop, the gynecologist, the morgue.

One drawback of this approach is that all of the other businesses will start sending you free offers. On the other hand, the obfuscation technique will perhaps render the real data to be useless.

So, what do you got on this Bredehoft guy here? Is he high risk?

Well, let's see. He went to a bicycle shop; that sounds good. But after that he went to a McDonald's.

Better check his credit card record - maybe we can figure out if he got a super sized meal.

OK, I'll check that. So after the McDonald's, he went to a Dr. Johnson, a...gynecologist?

You sure you got the right person?
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