Yet More Daft Obfuscation

In today’s world of ubiquitous surveillance many people are fascinated by the idea of digital obfuscation, techniques intended to concealing personal identity and behavior.

From “stealthwear” through Tor and Bitcoin, people are trying to hide in plain sight.

This week there is yet another obfuscation (from a local lab, no less). “Go Rando is a web browser extension that obfuscates your feelings on Facebook.”

The web site describes the problem they want to solve: when you use Facebook’s “reactions”, the data is collected and used by many actors for many purposes that are not necessarily in your own interest. Facebook uses the information to target news and adverts, and other organizations may use the information to profile users, e.g., as “dangerous”.

The Go Rando solution is the very basic obfuscation technique of false traffic. The tool automatically generates “reactions”, concealing your own ‘feelings’ in a fog of generic normality. Apparently, the idea is to chaff the algorithms with randomly generated junk.

I’m more than a little baffled by this product. If the purpose of using Facebook “reactions” is to express yourself—presumably to other people—how does filling the net with false signals from you help this process? I mean, if no one can tell what you really feel among all the chaff, then doesn’t this defeat the purpose of using the feature at all? It’s kind of like the Cone of Silence, no?

Worse, Go Rando makes fallacious claims such as, “Obfuscates your feelings on Facebook”. Huh? At most, it obfuscates the ambiguous signals from the “reactions” button. Even if these clicks have some relationship to “your feelings” (which is debatable), there are plenty of other signals about “your feelings” on Facebook and elsewhere online.

The whole enterprise seems completely daft to me.

For one thing, it’s not clear to me that this even works, or will work for long. I’ll bet that the random chaff can be algorithmically detected and filtered out to reveals your actual “signals” in the noise. (We can leave out for now the real possibility that your typing can be directly monitored, which would reveal signal from noise.)

In any case, it is so much easier to just not use Facebook at all, than to try to use it obscurely. This is especially true, given how much Go Rando degrades your intended signals.

Of course, this software is actually a bit of conceptual art, probably intended to teach people about the surveillance of their Facebook clicks. I guess that would be fine if it were clearly labeled as a spoof. But it isn’t, and I’m afraid that naïve users may falsely believe that this thing actually does something effective, which it doesn’t.

(Sorry, my career has been about making real software that delivers real, if magical, solutions. Fake software solutions that pretend to be real leave me very cold, indeed.)

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