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Poisoning Big Tech's Data Well

An interesting paper has surfaced on the subject of Big Tech using your data whether you want to allow it or not. The authors suggest different ways to render moot their advantage by unpredictably denying them the vast aggregated data they need to train their neural networks.

Researchers including PhD students Nicholas Vincent and Hanlin Li propose three ways the public can exploit this to their advantage:
  • Data strikes, inspired by the idea of labor strikes, which involve withholding or deleting your data so a tech firm cannot use it—leaving a platform or installing privacy tools, for instance.
  • Data poisoning, which involves contributing meaningless or harmful data. AdNauseam, for example, is a browser extension that clicks on every single ad served to you, thus confusing Google’s ad-targeting algorithms.
  • Conscious data contribution, which involves giving meaningful data to the competitor of a platform you want to protest, such as by uploading your Facebook photos to Tumblr instead.
(From Data Leverage: A Framework for Empowering the Public in its Relationship with Technology Companies, via TechnologyReview)

In his 1965 classic The Zap Gun, science fiction author Philip K. Dick provides a weaponized version of this idea - the civic notification distorter:

"I'll give you the poop," Febbs said, "on the Civic Notification Distorter. It's n-e but not terror. Not terminal. I mean it doesn't kill. It's in the conf class."

"... that means confusion. Disorienting"

"The Civic Notification Distorter," Febbs said, "bases its operation on the requirement that in present-day society every filled-out official form has to be recorded, microwise, in trio or quad or quin. Three, four or five copies in every instance have to be made. The weapon functions in a relatively uncomplicated manner. All micro-copies, after being Xeroxed, are carried over coaxial lines to file-repositories, generally subsurface and away from population centers, in case of a major war. You know, so they'll survive, I mean, records have got to survive. So the Civic Notification Distorter is launched ground-to-ground say from Newfoundland to Peking. I've selected Peking because that's the Sino-South-Asia civic-institution concentration for that half of Peep-East; that's where their half of their total records originate. It strikes, screwing itself within a matter of microseconds out of sight in the ground; no visible trace survives. And at once it extends pseudopodia which search out, subsurface, until it contacts a co-ax carrying data to an archive..."

"And the distorter," said Febbs, "Operates from that instant on in a way for which the word 'inspired' is not excessive. It diverts integers of the data, the fundamental message-units, so that they no longer agree. In other words, copy two of the original document no longer can be superimposed on copy one. Copy three disagrees with copy two at one higher order of distortion...

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