How to Confuse Google’s Ad Network and Reclaim Some Data Privacy

A browser extension called AdNauseam can "obfuscate" your data

AdNauseam browser extension
A browser extension called AdNauseam can confuse Google's ad network.

As tech companies continue to find ways to learn about every personal detail of your life — no, Amazon does not want to build you a custom t-shirt out of the goodness of their hearts — some sites and plug-ins are trying to find ways to confuse your data overlords.

Over at MIT Technology Review, Lee McGuigan — an assistant professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina — highlights one way to fight back with a browser extension called AdNauseam.

As the publication notes:

AdNauseam is like conventional ad-blocking software, but with an extra layer. Instead of just removing ads when the user browses a website, it also automatically clicks on them. By making it appear as if the user is interested in everything, AdNauseam makes it hard for observers to construct a profile of that person. It’s like jamming radar by flooding it with false signals.

As well, AdNauseam is adjustable. You can “choose” to trust privacy-respecting advertisers and jam others, or choose to automatically click on some or all of the ads on a site.

By obfuscating collected data, all the user tracking, targeting and surveillance become futile, as the team behind the extension suggests.

An experiment conducted by AdNauseam co-creator Helen Nissenbaum and McGuigan “established that AdNauseam does indeed work, most of the time.” And a larger-scale experiment involving use of Google’s AdSense sales service also proved that Google’s defenses “were not sensitive to the sort of clicking behavior typical of AdNauseam use.”

In other words, for now, AdNauseam works … although the author notes that Google doesn’t allow extensions of this type in their Chrome Web Store and the company is sure to find ways to block or overcome any challenges put up by a small, free extension that undermines their business.

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