Week 3 Reading: Obfuscation

This week we read “Surveillance Countermeasures: Expressive Privacy via Obfuscation” by Daniel C. Howe.

I loved this article and all of these ideas.

The sentence, “technology is described as a form of political action, building on work by Langdon Winner and Bruno Latour, who have argued that technical devices and systems may embody political and moral qualities,” reminded me of the first article we read that at one point argued that nothing is purely technical, it is always “sociotechincal.” I agree completely with this statement and don’t think the two can be separated. I think that once technologists understand this, we will have better technologies that don’t just work as tools, but enable our best humanity.

It is powerful that Howe uses the term “datafication” to talk about what is happening to us online - this sounds like commodification and is much more evocative of exploitation and extraction (in the terms described in Why Nations Fail) than “digital breadcrumbs” or “using your data” which companies usually use when describing their data collection and tracking activities.

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I also found it beautiful the way the author talked about these acts as poetic renderings of new alternative social spaces on the internet. This reminds me of a book I’m reading right now called @Heaven that is about the WELL, an early internet “message board” (it technically still exists today). I love imagining this time when these spaces did exist and when it seemed possible for the internet to be infinitely customizable, instead of prescribed and conformist - or the “inculcation of obedience” - as Howe describes at the beginning of the article. These projects give me hope that we can get back there.

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I tried installing Track Me Not and right away it started searching terms. I looked into the settings and realized that the default is 10 searches per minute!. I like that you can see a little bit of what it is searching displayed over the extension icon. Looking at the search data, I had a couple reactions to that I was surprised by and were counter to what I thought I felt about search data being collected and analyzed for targeted advertising: I wondered, will this start to mess with my Google search results? In this moment I realized that I like that they are so useful and curated to me. Also, I wondered, will this change the ads I see? I hate seeing ads, but I guess ads that are relevant to me are nicer to see than ads for things I don’t like.

But...I also like the feeling of doing this small protest.

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