Techniques to Pollute Electronic Profiling
The recent disclosures about NSA have brought to light how our national security agencies use meta data, the electronic trail left by the array of digital devices that have are part of our daily life. Information generated by our phones, the cellphone towers that are used to complete our calls as we drive and talk and create mayhem on the highways. IP addresses from our laptops and digital communications as we sign on in Starbucks, hotel lobbies, and at home. Then there is the vast collection of "dark data", the dark data created by the systems in our cars that are used to help automative technicians diagnose problems with our cars, the commercial use of that data to let our insurance companies get a picture of our driving habits, information from medical devices like radiation machines calibrated across the network, information from our EZ-Pass devices for paying tolls and a host of similar commercial electronics used to track shipments, make sure truck drivers take the mandatory rest periods and the black boxes in airplanes used to reconstruct traffic incidents.
The Wall Street Journal explains how it works in its article, Phones Leave a Telltale Trail.
The systematic mapping and analysis of this type of meta data, the individual pieces of information these devices create, is called dataveillance, a linguistic portmanteau of data and surveillance. Dataveillance made its first appearance in the patentsphere in US Patent 4,962,473, Emergency action systems including console and security monitoring apparatus. This vintage 1988 invention covers a technique to consolidate the data coming from a variety of different control systems so that they can be monitored from a central location. It foreshadows the dataveillance to come.
Apple holds a patent titled, "Techniques to pollute electronic profiling" invented by Stephen Carter who also has patents by with same title when he was at Novell. The patents reinforce much of the prevailing concerns about the digital monitoring of Americans and our protections under the constitution. And protection from overly aggressive marketing and targeted advertising folks.
US 8069485's summary of the invention starts, "A significant concern with electronic commerce and with the proliferation of electronic transactions is that of privacy. Individuals, particularly American citizens, have always been suspect of the motivations and actions of their government and "Big Business." This skepticism has given rise to a variety of privacy laws and rights enjoyed by American citizens, which remains the envy of much of the rest of the world."
"…Concerns about the government and its knowledge about its citizenry is often referred to in a derogatory sense as actions of "Big Brother" who is omnipresent and gathering information to use to its advantage when needed. The electronic age has given rise to what is now known as thousands of "Little Brothers," who perform Internet surveillance by collecting information to form electronic profiles about a user not through human eyes or through the lens of a camera but through data collection. This form of Internet surveillance via data collection is often referred to as "dataveillance." In a sense, thousands of "Little Brothers" or automated programs can monitor virtually every action of users over the Internet. The data about a user can be accumulated and combined with other data about the user to form electronic profiles of the users."
"…Even famous authors have foreseen and speculated about the problems associated with invading privacy. Consider Orwell who gave rise to the concept of an Orwellian society from the Big Brother of his novel, 1984. In that novel, Big Brother is the government, which has managed to invade privacy to the point where every dwelling was equipped with a "tele-screen" which, while providing entertainment and information access to the user, also allowed Big Brother to observe visually and audibly the occupants of the dwellings. Of course, Big Brother knew that the observed behavior of the dwelling occupants was not strictly the "true persona" of those being observed, but rather was what the "true persona" Big Brother wanted to observe. This, however, was immaterial to Big Brother because Big Brother knew that if it could foster a set of behavior that was consistently portrayed over a given period of time, then the "true persona" would begin to morph into another person that was, at its core, what the behaviors were designed to foster. Thus, Big Brother was also known as the "Thought Police," which was very successful at conditioning the masses and eliminating the non-conformists."
"…In fact, users are becoming so concerned about dataveillance that a booming industry has arisen that attempts to thwart the data collection. Some examples include "anonymizers" and "spyware killers." Anonymizers attempt to make transactions anonymous, such as by using a fictitious user name for a given transaction. Spyware Killers detect programs that self-install on a user's device and monitor Internet actions of that user and then report the monitoring information back to a marketer or other entity." (This is about to be an even bigger growth market. Sorry NSA.)
Mr. Carter's most recent published patent application, US20120233703, published Sep 13, 2012 and filed May 24, 2012 (looks like accelerated examination to us) is part of the same family, provides a method to pollute such data collection by creating clones, "the cloned identity may have feigned confidential information assigned or associated with the cloned identity. This may include life statistics, such as data of birth, birthday club, gender, income level, marital status, number and ages of children, hair color, etc. This information may actually substantially correspond to the life statistics of the principal so as to strengthen the likelihood that the cloned identity will be accepted by eavesdroppers as the principal." The patent claims,
1. A non-transitory computer-readable implemented method to process on a device, comprising:
identifying, by the device, time intervals and dates that a principal is likely to be logged into a network;
determining, by the device, that the principal is not logged into the network during the time intervals and the dates; and
performing, by the device, actions over the network pretending to be the principal and by using a cloned identity for the principal, the actions taken are divergent from areas of interest associated with a true identity of the principal and the actions taken during the time intervals and dates.
We can now all have our own digital body double who roams the internet creating a digital diversion for those who want to track our moments. It might also help improve the quality of the ads we are seeing. The relentless ads from sites we've already visited are so boring.
But let us not forget that for our adversaries, reading published patents is a rich source of intelligence on the way to circumvent our security too. Innovators and entrepreneurs should read patents too.