Events Spring 2019

Theoretically Speaking — What We Can Learn from AdNauseam about the Threat and Power of Data Obfuscation

Mar 27, 2019 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm 

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Helen Nissenbaum (Cornell Tech)


David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley

Data obfuscation, the creation of noisy data intended to foil data surveillance and behavioral profiling, offers a promising shield. My talk describes one such case, AdNauseam, a controversial browser add-on that obscures a user’s interests by automatically generating website clicks. For decades, powerhouses of the information economy have fended off meaningful privacy regulation in order to protect a dominant business model based upon unmitigated surveillance and relentless personal data-capture. Our team’s experience launching AdNauseam exposed a stark reality: Familiar platform oligopolies, while tolerating practices that have had negative (if not catastrophic) consequences for individuals, the public sphere, and democracy, are quick to suppress legitimate resistance to their business model. Although AdNauseam and efforts like it are not the comprehensive solution we ultimately need, they show the promise of data obfuscation as a powerful asset in the ongoing struggle for meaningful privacy.

Space is limited; please register to reserve a seat.

Theoretically Speaking is a lecture series highlighting exciting advances in theoretical computer science for a broad general audience. Events are held at the David Brower Center in Downtown Berkeley, and are free and open to the public. No special background is assumed.

Light refreshments will be served before the lecture, at 5:30 p.m.