// what do you think?


Hiding in Plain Sight. Fighting Privacy with Noise.

Not everyone is comfortable living in public. Some of us are pretty comfortable with it, but everyone is a little nervous about it. If you’re not you should be. There’s a simple solution. Not perfect but somehow poetic.

Image by R’eyes via Flickr

Here’s the fact: There is information about every single one of you online. Unless you’re ex CIA or something there’s something about you out there. And with just a little bit of information you can dig up an awful lot. This is largely due to the fact that there is only certain information about you. Things like your address and other public information.

But what if there was a lot of information. I mean dozens of updates a week on things like what you were thinking about at work, what kind of music you liked, what you had for lunch or better yet a lot of information about something or a couple things you were an expert on. How easy would it be now to find the things you didn’t want discovered?

It would be considerably harder. Even with a name like mine, which is too easy to discover, you now have to wade through dozens of pages of content.My advice to everyone nervous about privacy is to fight it with noise. Publish mountains of content with your name all over it. Bury your private data in safe data. Pandora’s box has been opened. We can never go back but you can safeguard yourself.

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • rski

    As much as I want to agree with you, I believe this is futile. I recently spotted my brother on a news forum, he was using an old nickname of his. Topics, locations discussed - all matched.
    This was easy, yet spooky.
    There are statistical methods that can match user behaviours with users, weeding out noise. Marketoids and secret services use them while others perfect them in their PhDs as we speak.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    rski, I think you misunderstood my advice. I think trying to hide under a fake name is the wrong approach. It gives a false sense of security. My advice is not to hide at all. But instead be very, very active as yourself. But only be selectively active. Produce tons of content under a selective topic. It's not perfect and it is not possible to hide all of your information completely. If someone really, really wants to find it they can. But you can also make it much harder for them to find the stuff about you, you don't want discovered. Be smart with sensitive data and purposefully careless with everything else.

  • emilyseong

    I agree with this for the most part. Granted I phrased mine a bit differently “Control the Conversation” if you will, but I didn't mean control by lock down, shut out, or otherwise protect your info. Rather making sure that you put out content/info that you WANT to be found and make sure that negative info is outweighed by positive (or in this case neutral ie status updates, etc). Here's my full write up for my company @BanyanBranch. http://www.banyanbranch.com/control-the-convers…

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Great minds think alike :) I agree with control as long as we're talking about the kind of control you have over cats… but yes. Guiding, leading, shaping, all good approaches.

  • rski

    I think I understood you quite well, the brother thing was just an example of how privacy-less the web is. I'm sure he doesn't know I'm stalking him in his daily regional news comments ;)

    My point is, what you think is noise, is actually rich sample data. Just this very comment contains lots of profiling information about me: I have a brother and comment on privacy issues.

    Soon, if not today, your employer will be able to order your psychological profile, an audit based on your online activity. It's not just information and interests you disclose and consumer behavior patterns. There are linguistic patterns from 'noise' - your syntax, vocabulary, common errors, sayings and interpunction. Add your topics, people you network with and timings. Images you posted - their content can be scanned for content and compared with a billion of others for years, now there are many online services that do this. Picture files usually contain dates, camera models and serial numbers, sometimes locations.

    The more what you call 'noise', the better you will be pinpointed I'm afraid.

    It is possible that all this data will match ie. your activity on forums under a whole different nickname years earlier or anonymous comments elsewhere. You leave traces while you think you're masking them.

    From a fascinating article by Talking Heads' David Byrne:

    “I recently read an article regarding the security of so-called “scrubbed” data. Netflix or some other company wanted to employ a third party to analyze some of their customers’ patterns of purchase — but as a precaution they removed (scrubbed) the customers’ names off the data. So theoretically, the people being analyzed were now abstract entities. However, out of curiosity they hired another company, to see if any of those unidentified customers could possibly be re-identified. It turned out they could. Not due to a fault of the scrubbing, or some security or software malfunction, but because other data and patterns of customer and citizen behavior were available online, and correlating these with the patterns of the anonymous customers led to conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, the re-identification of many.”


  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    So basically we're screwed no matter what we do? Time to move to the mountains :)
    Great find.

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