Anonymizing Life

Thursday, February 21, 2008

zebra.pngPrivacy is one of my favorite topics to muse over, and it’s been in the news a fair bit in the last few weeks. So here’s a collection of thoughts poorly organized and randomly selected. For a far more interesting discussion on these topics listen to Bruce Schneier, especially his discussions of Liberty vs. Control as well as Little Kids and Strangers.

Popular Science posted an interesting article regarding privacy and personal information protection. I know, sounds pointless and possibly even too esoteric for anyone to care about but the article is surprisingly well researched, especially for a Popular Science piece. It documents how difficult it is to cover your trail in today’s world, and how simply attempting this often raises suspicion.

Another great article dealing privacy and consumerism examines how Build-a-Bear takes advantage of little kids to harvest private information. I can’t exactly explain why but this particularly disgusts me, and not because of the company but how the parents are just as complacent and unquestioning as their own kids.

A great service I’ve used many times is dodgeit.com, which offers free anonymous email access with RSS syndication. This allows effortless disposable email addresses without (directly) providing identifying information to the provider. But it does have it’s share of problems, primarily one cannot delete messages without registering an account. Therefore any registration emails you receive may potentially contain an account password and be available to anyone who happens to be looking. To secure or control an account you must make a donation through amazon.com or paypal.com, but now you’re giving out even more information, destroying your original intent.

Ideally anyone using dodgeit.com or similar services could access and delete any messages on the system, allowing an individual to control many accounts simultaneously while transparently sharing others. But all of this is moot as the site hasn’t posted a privacy policy and makes no mention of where information goes behind the html brackets, so please be aware of the risks. Assume the administrator is a New York prosecutor.

A much more amusing option for protecting your identity is to wear infrared LEDs. This is a long known trick based on the idea that modern surveillance cameras typically use light from the infrared spectrum. The LEDs broadcast light blinding the cameras while remaining invisible to the human eye. This is explored quite effectively in Cory Doctorow’s short story I, Robot (a re-imagining of Asimov’s world and one of my favorite short stories – highly recommended).

This all interests me because I deal with these issues daily at work, often from many sides. We regularly protect other’s privacy, as well as organizational security as a whole, but also monitor each other through what are known as “invasive policies.” However this is far from typical as my employer places particular emphasis on things like integrity and honor, whatever those are.

Anyway I apologize for posting such slop. Future posts will be better thought out I promise.

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