(I want to preface this by saying that Noiszy isn't specifically endorsing any party of political point of view. Privacy and data-usage concerns affect ALL of us. But I do want to encourage civic engagement on the issues Noiszy deals with.)
In a way, algorithms treat your views like votes. A view means "I'll look at this", and the election we're all participating in is a contest for our attention. Standalone, "views = attention" is a fairly reasonable equivalency.
Your "votes" are recorded. The recording itself is ok in my mind; the real problem is how the data's used. Realistically, your data is recorded all over the place, online and offline, often for completely reasonable purposes. Make a transaction with a card, and the back end processes need to know who you are and how to get your money; if we wanted to disallow all data collection and usage, we'd be back to an all-cash economy. Luckily, there are clear regulations guarding how this data must be secured and used, and we can use cards without much concern.
The problem with web browsing data is that once your data is out there, there is very little other than technical limitations governing how it can be used. Technical limitations are reducing every day, which leaves us unprotected. This creates a very real imbalance of power. Data + processing power = virtually unlimited possibilities. Your "votes" are being processed, repackaged, sold, and used for purposes you have no awareness of or control over. This isn't right.
Just like in democratic elections, we can (and should) all vote, but any single person's vote can only have so much impact. To have a wider impact, we need to get our voices heard. We're lucky to have leaders who are promoting this issue. But there's more we can do.
We can march. Even better, we can make our #DataMarch.
A successful march has to be organized. A call to march has to include a time and place. And, it should have a clear message.
With Noiszy - or any other obfuscation tool - we're creating a stream of data. We need the data to be meaningless to achieve the filter-bursting goal. But we also need it to be targeted, to focus and make an impact. A march where people go to a random street in their town and walk quietly down it wouldn't have much of an impact. If we sent our Noiszy visits to completely random pages, that's kind of what we'd be doing.
That's the reason that Noiszy works from a short list of sites. (You can opt out of any site, so you're still in control.)
So, where should we go?
We launched with a list of mainstream media sites, along with a couple of more partisan media sites. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but news sites are a good place to start if we want to have an impact, because:
- They use personalization techniques that create filter bubbles, both within their own site, and across the group of sites.
- Their content deals with issues that affect our lives - both online and off - and has a real and meaningful impact on our society. We could choose to direct Noiszy traffic to online retailers and break the filter bubbles there - and actually that would be more immediately obvious and easy to do, and perhaps we should do so in the future; but I believe that the news is more pressing.
- They're prepared to handle a flood of traffic - we're not trying to bring sites down with an attack, but our voices - our data's voices! - need to be heard.
- For news sites, this is unlikely to cause immediate financial harm, which is actually good. We don't want to start a riot, and I don't want this to be shut down before it gets off the ground. Retailers could argue a clear link between Noiszy and reduced revenue, and that's just not the battle I want to fight right out of the gate.
- Getting coverage in the news would be a great way to raise awareness of this issue, so why not go straight to the source?
This approach is also why Noiszy is specifically designed to make traffic that, technically speaking, is "real" and is unfilterable by web analytics tools. The data has to get through filters to make an impact and get noticed. It's the equivalent of people showing up for a march. (And, the data itself also has to be meaningless to make an impact, which is why we (the people) need tools to help us with this.)
So let's hear it: what do you think about a #DataMarch?