Noise and obfuscation as means of hiding in the Web
Search engines extensively collect and share data, which users provide without even thinking about it seriously.
Using private mode or clearing the browser history deletes only local tracks –the logs with all requests remain on the search engine server. These logs are analyzed in order to find statistical correlations, and the shadow user profile is updated. Everything that can be detected is taken into account: frequency of requests and their type, number of mistakes, the time it takes to analyze the search results, how many and what links are followed, how the user reacts to contextual advertising, and much more.
Allegedly, it is done "to improve quality of the service" and provide users with "personal recommendations". In reality, these data are often sold to marketers who use them for targeted advertising; political consultants and government bodies use these data to study methods of crowd control and detect persons who pose a potential threat.
Although Google, Yandex and other search engines are collecting only information available to all and don’t ask for personal data, they are able to make up detailed profiles of all the people who have ever used their services. By means of analyzing users’ characteristic behavior in the Web, the particular person can be identified even if he or she changes OS, browser, user account and IP-address.
Most privacy protection tools try to conceal the unique user IDs and settings. TrackMeNot (TMN) – a plug-in for Firefox and Chrome, written at the Department of Computer Science of New York University – uses completely different approach. Instead of concealment or encryption, it applies obfuscation. With TrackMeNot, user’s actual web searches get lost in numerous false queries, making correct data profiling extremely difficult.
Such technique works effectively, because the plug-in acts exclusively on the client’s side and doesn’t depend on centralized servers.
One more browser extension designed to obfuscate browsing data is called AdNauseam. It protects users from surveillance and tracking by advertising networks using the technique by means of creating ‘noise’ which makes user profiling, targeting and surveillance fruitless. Working together with an ad blocker, AdNauseam clicks every blocked ad, so a visit is registered in all ad networks databases. The real user’s queries get lost in continuous click-stream.