fravia @ Paris
Ecole polytechnique, 6 February 2001

You smear traces everywhere ~ Anonymity matters and efficient tools

Relative anonymity is better than nothing (hiding in the crevices of the system)

Yep, when you travel around the web you smear your data all around. It does not look nice at all.

A first intersting question for you. You know very well that there are "free" page hosting services, where anyone can publish his rubbish for free, in return having finally to accept some crappish and (soit dit entre nous) easy to eliminate advertisement banner.
You know that on the web there are tons of "free" email addresses, of free "agendas", free "filedepots", free messageboards, free maillists... and so on and so on.
Now the question is: WHY?

In your opinion: why does someone go through the hassle of delivering you mighty search engines like Altavista, or Google, or Fast?
You think it's done in order to get some money through advertisement? False.
You think it's done to demonstrate the power of a given hardware structure? False.
What could it be... what could it be?

The real and only reason so many different 'providers' are 'providing' you with these "free" search engines, email addresses, messageboards and so on is that YOUR DATA ARE USEFUL!

Of course every goddam search you do is registered and analysed.
Of course every email you send through yahoo is grepped.
Of course every "free homepage depository" is continuosuly checking and grepping the whole material that has been fished.

Imagine you're Altavista, or yahoo or your own future search engine proprietor.
And you'r (of course) grepping the data you get. Now let's say that -all of a sudden- ten million bozos look / search / email / chat about -say- akamai (just an example, don't worry: once learned how to search you'll easily find out what akamai is).

Let's say that three million bozos write during the same afternoon an email to their pen-pals saying "Heya, tomorrow i'm going to buy some akamai shares!" (or 'sell', for data gathering purposes it doesn't matter a crumb which way the zombies are going).

You dig it? Insider trading is NOTHING in comparison.

Yes, your emails, your personal pages, your searchstrings... EVERYTHING you do on the web is used for (somebody else's) profit purposes. The same applies in everday life as well of course... see for instance the supermarket's 'advantage' cards, which are only a cheap way of gathering all possible data about somebody for profit maximizing purposes... only on the web it's easier and cheaper... and more rewarding.

I'll explain this better: I have on my own sites a very nice and powerful local engine: namazu, that allows people to search my site for specific keywords they might be interested in.
And indeed my visitors do search a lot -oh boy- they do. Now I can tell you that even on such a relatively small scale the targets of their searches can -at times- be pretty important for me: for instance a special new software I didn't even know existed, but someone presumed I would have been dealing with. Or a given project I never knew about, but someone just wanted to see if I had written or gathered something about it... and so on, and so on.

You dig it? All these 'free' offers are just made in order to fish your own data out of the web sea. You'r like a tuna fish for them, and the more creative and clever you are, the better for those hosting your emails and pages.

A relative degree of anonymity

A relative degree of anonymity is of paramount importance on the web. You cannot be completely anonymous, of course, but the more you are, the better.

Each time somebody asks you for some personal info... do a mix from the following: