Against online surveillance, Internet users “poison” their personal data

By Aurelien Defer

Posted yesterday at 01:51, updated yesterday at 05:42

For Amir (the first name has been changed), it all started with a gift: a nice bottle of beer received for his birthday. A few days later, while trying to find out more about it, this Nepalese student in his twenties realizes that he has been categorized “interested in alcoholic beverages” by Facebook. Because the platform has now associated his profile with the keywords sought, the young man finds himself assailed, on his news feed, by targeted advertisements related to the drink. A paradox, when you know that he doesn’t actually drink alcohol.

It is at this precise moment that Amir makes the decision to “poison” his data. The idea? Fool platform algorithms by pretending to be something you are not. “What’s worse for them than not providing any data?” Provide bad ones! The easiest thing to do is to simulate different interests: when you follow two opposing political parties, for example, the artificial intelligence is confused and does not know what you really like. »

The “right to lie”

Should we continue to give up our personal information, which is not merchandise like any other, to private companies? How can we protect ourselves from this constant and particularly opaque online surveillance without for all that prohibiting ourselves from using the Internet? Like Amir, more and more Internet users are wondering about the protection of their privacy and decide to regain power by practicing what they callobfuscation (offense or obfuscation) or the data poisoningdata poisoning, leaving behind false information, supposed to cover their digital profile, and thus afford a form of protection.

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This strategy is not new, according to Helen Nissenbaum, professor in the department of information sciences at Cornell Tech University (State of New York). “During the Second World War, when the Allies flew over Germany to drop bombs, their planes dropped glitter, pieces of paper with aluminumexplains the researcher. During these short periods of time, the Germans could not determine which of the dots that appeared on their anti-aircraft radars were aircraft and which were what might be called “poison data”. »

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Against online surveillance, Internet users “poison” their personal data

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