Saturday, October 19, 2013

A modest proposal to help support internet privacy

Recent revelations about PRISM and TEMPORA have made people more aware about the threats to their privacy on the internet. There have also been concerns about commercially motivated data harvesting, though these have rather paled into insignificance in the light of the governments' apparently illegal data gathering practices.

Some internet users have responded by suggesting that we all ought to use better encrypted services and blocking software. There are doubts as to how effective this can be, especially since the government appears to have an armlock on the providers of these services. My modest proposal is for a different, smokescreen-like approach. I suggest it would be useful if our browsers generated masses of false data about our search terms and browsing habits.

Something similar has been suggested before, as in this article and also here. A similar approach has also been proposed in terms of generating fake GPS location data.

This could be delivered via a browser plug-in, like AdBlock. The spoofing and false search terms could be regularly updated in the plug in. On the model of the World Community Grid the plug-in could be only active when the users were not actively using their PCs. Of course, it would be of fundamental importance that those who managed this process were perceived to be completely trustworthy; otherwise the plug-ins could be manipulated for commercial purposes, or to support objectives that those who had joined this activity would not endorse.

This is particularly important because the network of participating PCs could be used in something very similar to a botnet orchestrated distributed denial of service attack, albeit one with the consent of the PC owners. In the context of full consent, though, this could be seen as a legitimate form of protest, analogous to signing petitions or sending emails of protest.

I look forward to being advised by my more code-savvy friends whether this approach would be feasible and whether it has disadvantages that I haven't thought of.

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