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Polluting Electronic Profiling

Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2012 by Mike Cicero

The Information Age has undoubtedly resulted in immense and lasting changes to the way in which individuals conduct their daily lives. For example, years ago when a person wanted to research a certain topic chances were that a university or public library would be visited; however, today a person wishing to research the same topic can find vast amounts of relevant information from the comfort of their couch. Along with the clear benefits it provides, the ability to quickly and freely access information also brings about serious concerns of privacy.

One paramount privacy concern is identity theft, an illegal activity that seems all too common. However, it is not only illegal activities which spark privacy concerns. In most cases information gathered electronically is used for completely legal purposes, e.g. highly targeted and aggressive marketing tactics. The commonly used term “Spyware” denotes any computer program that self-installs on a device and then closely monitors an individual’s behavior in order to relay information back to an entity, , usually to utilize in achieving economic gain. Computer users increasingly witness the results of information misappropriation, such as when shortly after viewing cameras on Amazon.com a user begins to see camera advertisements on nearly every subsequently visited web page. Obviously, there is a need for a solution to this problem.

Firewalls are a commonly employed tool to keep hackers and spyware out of reach of personal information. Unfortunately, firewalls cannot effectively stop the more sophisticated attempts at misappropriating information, and they also block some information transfers that a user actually wishes to occur.

History tells us that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t stop all entities from retrieving personal information. So why don’t we stop trying to but also just give those entities false information as well. After all, ultimately only accurate information is valuable information. U.S. Patent No. 8,069,485 entitled “Techniques To Pollute Electronic Profiling” takes just this approach by automated means. (Read the Full Patent Here). This patent discloses a method for polluting the information gathered by “network eavesdroppers” by making an electronic clone of a principal agent, e.g. a service subscriber, and then carrying out numerous online actions which appear to the network eavesdropper to be associated with the principal rather than the clone. Therefore, once an entity collects personal information about a person who is utilizing this method that entity will not be certain that the information collected is real or fake. Essentially, relevant and accurate information is buried under reams of manufactured and phony information. The result of this method could be that marketing entities will really only have information describing a demographic even if they believe that information is personal.

Originally, this patent was assigned to Novell, Inc., a leading provider of various infrastructure software products. However, in February the computer giant Apple Inc. acquired, among others, the patent “Techniques To Pollute Electronic Profiling.” Perhaps in years to come iTunes subscribers will have access to this method and the ability to effectively bury their sensitive and/or personal information away from those who they would rather not have access to it.

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