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opaque projector/managing transparency

from Jamais Cascio’s “Managing Transparency” at Fast Company:

Opaque Projector

The last strategy, deception, boils down to this: we may be able to watch each other, but that doesn’t mean what we show is real.

Call it “polluting the datastream”: introducing false and misleading bits of personal information (about location, about one’s history, about interests and work) into the body of public data about you. It could be as targeted as adding lies to your Wikipedia entry (should you have one) or other public bios; it could be as random as putting enough junk info about yourself onto Google-indexed websites and message boards. Many of us do this already, at least to a minor degree: at a recent conference, I asked the audience how many give false date-of-birth info on website sign-ups; over half the audience raised their hands.

The goal here isn’t to construct a consistent alternate history for yourself, but to make the public information sufficiently inconsistent that none of it could be considered entirely reliable. Granted, this won’t do much about ubiquitous documentation–although there are techniques that can help–it would be very effective in the Justice Scalia example I mentioned last week. If in digging up info about him, they found a dozen sites saying that he had four kids, another half-dozen saying that he was childless, a Wikipedia page saying that his middle name was Mario and an “official” bio saying that it was Luigi (all of the preceding being entirely imaginary, of course), how would they know what to trust?

There’s the implicit potential for a world where such obfuscation of facts in the name of privacy becomes not just commonplace, but commercialized. Depending upon the legality, one might start to see companies that provide “data-pollution” services, commodifying opacity. Sifting services, conversely, would offer to identify misinformation and provide “trustable” data about a target. All for a price.

This strategy, too, has its own considerable drawbacks–not the least of which would be the evisceration of the Internet as a semi-reliable source of information. Are we ready to poison the well in the name of protecting our privacy?

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