Obfuscation

Obfuscation

A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest

Finn Brunton, Helen Nissenbaum

They can’t necessarily create secret social spaces for their community—parents can and do demand passwords to their social-network accounts and access to their phones. Instead, they use a variety of practices that assume everyone can see what they do, and then behave so that only a few people can understand the meaning of their actions. “Limiting access to meaning,” boyd writes, “can be a much more powerful tool for achieving privacy than trying to limit access to the content itself.” 5 Their methods don’t necessarily use obfuscation (they lean heavily on subtle social cues, references, and nuance to create material that reads differently to different audiences, a practice of “social steganography”), but they emphasize the importance of understanding goals. The goal is not to disappear or to maintain total informational control (which may be impossible); it is to limit and shape the community that can accurately interpret actions that everyone can see.

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