Resisting Surveillance Capitalism

This is just an idea, and I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on it, especially those with technical know-how surrounding data mining and the ad companies that do it.

I read Shoshana Zuboff’s brilliant “Age of Surveillance Capitalism” about a year ago and haven’t been able to get it off my mind since, especially surrounding all the conversations in the Humane Tech community. I’m deeply concerned about the effects of the attention economy, particularly surrounding human will + the wellness effects it may have.

My own minor acts of resistance around this have been quite petty – for instance, when someone requires that I give them my email address for a service that, I feel, really doesn’t need to know that information about me, I will make up an email address or phone number on the spot. Or lie about my birthday, etc. I figure if they don’t need the information, they shouldn’t have it.

Out of nowhere the other day I thought, what if we’re going around this privacy stuff all wrong? It seems we find new ways to obfuscate our data, and new ways keep being created to mine more and more information out of us. Instead of trying to hide data, what if there were an app or program of somekind which gave these big companies massive amounts of false data, but presented it as though it were accurate? It’s kind of the “Garbage in, Garbage out” idea, with the aim of generating so much information that it becomes difficult for an ad company to discern what is true and what is false, essentially making all of the data about me useless.

Apologies for my technical ignorance if this has been done before, or if there are barriers I’m not aware of. At any rate, I’d love to hear thoughts on this. Thanks!


Hi Zach,

It is great suggestion, but has its implications. There were prior topics on this forum, but I could just find this one: The Fantasy of Opting Out

A number of softwares exist that implement the obfuscation strategies you mention. There is a browser extension that changes the browser tag continuously so you appear as a different browser on each request. Disadvantage is that this behavior can also be detected and can make you stand out more instead of less. Plus browser fingerprinting techniques may still uniquely identify you.

There is another extension that randomly clicks (in the background, without you noticing) all ads that are on a page, so that any profile that is compiled from that does not reflect your personal interests. This is also dubious in effectiveness, and helps the ad companies rake in money.

These are the reasons I never included these types of projects on awesome-humane-tech.

Note: A New Digital Manifesto (found via HN) includes the “Right To Hide”:

Users have the right to take measures that hide their identity online and in real-life. Users have the right to form multiple identities, and to choose which identities they want to use to communicate, transact, publish, or consume content. Users have the right to simultaneously exercise their Right to Hide and their other digital rights.

When people or platforms attempt to obtain personal information from a user or to forcibly associate them with a single identity, users have the right to lie and to subvert technologies that would unmask them.

Users have the right to build and distribute software that hides their identity. Users have the right to teach other people how to subvert software and how to lie to organizations and individuals that attempt to deanonymize them.

@ZStick I don’t know if this is also in her book, but Shoshana Zuboff said on a podcast (Recode?), that hiding from, and avoidance of, surveillance tech shouldn’t be necessary. She doesn’t think that’s a good way to live. Why should we be in such a situation?

She thinks the solution instead is to have laws against being surveilled. She’s asking for legal boundaries to be set.

I think there still need to be ways to avoid surveillance because some entities are going to track even if it is illegal. And for some people it can be a serious threat to their safety.

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@ZStick I read Shoshana Zuboff magnum opus as well revealing the weaponization of the Internet by both public and private entities. The sleeping giant in IP is the end-user, customer, and citizenry. I highly recommend “Reframing Business: Where the Map Changes the Landscape” by Richard Norman explaining the notion of a dematerialized hidden second economy on the horizon. We are in the midst of Capitalism Triple Crisis COVID, Global Economics, and Climate Change. Just observe the dysfunctional polarized infotainment industry today dwelling on an inmate in an insane asylum taking over the asylum as a dictator. The event literally has sucked all the oxygen out of the room capable of having a truthful appreciative inquiry and dialog regarding any black swan on the horizon. The value extraction economy hit new highs yesterday while human suffering is experiencing new depths of despair. Never mind Siberia Tundra is on fire 30-years ahead of schedule. The leadership crisis is a major problem. “Reimaging Capitalism With a World on Fire” by Rebecca Henderson is calls for a major shift from “Shareholder Value Extraction” to “Stakeholder Value Creation of Mission-Driven Communities of Value.” I have appreciated Rebecca’s research for over 20+years.

I have been disappointed with this Humane Tech Community and don’t see anything coming out leadership here either. Lastly, we live in systemic systems beyond reform and resistance. Innovations are attempting to fix a flat tire. Any reasonable arational solution is like throwing fresh paint on a rotten wall. The sleeping giant is mesmerized by the hypnotic infotainment ~ fashion industry ignoring the rising temperature in our human pot cooking us to death in an insane drive for money and ignoring the beauty and wonder of being human.

Good luck!

Sorry to hear about your disappointment @Mushin, but it is understandable, and I share some of that too. As facilitator of this community I have spent countless hours volunteering to get some real activity from the ground (most of that before you joined, btw). But it was mostly me and a tiny group of others willing to the real work. I’ve come to see that most people love to tell about the doom & gloom that is coming to us, but are much less eager to help to avoid it. I call it the “engagement problem” and you see that more or less in all kinds of communities. But it is stronger here because of the broad scope and even broader audience. Also I guess the issue is comparable to climate-change inaction, where in general people’ll only move once disaster strikes them personally… The frog + boiling water etc.

I am still as active as before, but in different parts of the web (FOSS community, fediverse, etc.) where there is shared understanding and action in the right direction. I try to be purely on the solution-side of things in - because it interests me the most - the more technical sides of humane technology. This is uplifting and positive, while the raising of awareness of our dark future is a depressing and demoralizing activity. Frankly there is so many of this kind of information out there, that imho there is no need to add more. I see precious few of these articles and other resources mentioning solutions, or offering paths of hope. People read, get more worried and distressed, and move on. The next time they may tune it out in blissful ignorance.

Lastly you should not confuse (don’t know if you did or not) this community (HTC) with Tristan Harris’ CHT - we are wholly independent (they only fund this forum). And CHT can be seen as highly successful, but on the regulatory side of things at high strategic levels. You won’t necessarily see much of that as it is all boardroom and political influencing at play. But if there’s a future anti-trust and some Big Tech is broken up, I am sure they played a good part in advising there.

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