Apple has filed a patent for making clones of your online identity that will serve up misinformation to data collectors, thus polluting the data stream that feeds electronic profiling.
Techniques to pollute electronic profiling are provided. A cloned identity is created for a principal. Areas of interest are assigned to the cloned identity, where a number of the areas of interest are divergent from true interests of the principal. One or more actions are automatically processed in response to the assigned areas of interest. The actions appear to network eavesdroppers to be associated with the principal and not with the cloned identity.
These “areas of interest” that Apple proposes to fill in with fake data include semantic areas, categories, or subjects related to transactions or actions over the network, the patent states.
For example, one area of interest might be photography. A consumer might assign interests to his or her clone that link the phony persona with a passion for not only photography but specific areas of photography.
Say, your clone might be the type who clicks “Like” on all kitten photos she can get her electronic mitts on.
The raison d’être for Apple’s clones, according to the patent filing, is the citizenry’s concerns over privacy as they conduct electronic commerce and other transactions.
As it is, individuals, particularly American citizens, are suspect of the motivations and actions of government and “Big Business.” That skepticism has given rise to “privacy laws and rights enjoyed by American citizens [that] remain the envy of much of the rest of the world,” Apple says.
(Is that true? I’ve always thought the EU was Privacy Central. But I digress.)
As e-commerce has grown, so has concern over the collection of confidential information, Apple says – not only by legitimate outfits but also by identity thieves.
But even the legal collection of our information is “extremely annoying,” Apple notes, “such as when targeted and aggressive marketing tactics are used.”
From the patent’s background section:
...many feel it is an invasion of their privacy even if the marketing is currently considered to be lawful. Moreover, even legitimate and lawful enterprises that collect confidential information about a user runs the risk of having an intruder penetrate their databases and acquiring the information for subsequent unlawful purposes.
Hallelujah! LinkedIn much, anyone?
Apple goes on to describe the government and its overly rich knowledge of its citizenry, drops the term “Big Brother” into the mix, throws in “Thought Police” and the plot summary for Orwell’s 1984, before detailing the rise of “Little Brothers”.
According to Apple, “Little Brothers” are thousands of automated programs that “perform Internet surveillance by collecting information to form electronic profiles about a user not through human eyes or through the lens of a camera but through data collection.”
Little Brothers can monitor virtually everything we do online, Apple says. And here’s the rub: users are hating the situation to the extent that they’re fueling a burgeoning industry devoted to thwarting “dataveillance” and data collection.
Think spyware killers that detect programs that self-install on a user’s device and monitor internet activity, or anonymizers that thwart data collection by, for example, cooking up fictitious user names for transactions.
Short of that, users are manually getting evasive. Users turn off cookies in their browsers, refuse to register for services that demand their email address or other confidential information, or just walk away from suspicious transactions altogether.
Even if you adopt all the evasive techniques and technologies, you’re still being profiled, Apple says:
...information about the user is likely to still be successfully collected if the user engages in electronic commerce over the Internet, engages in information gathering over the Internet, or engages in downloading and installing services over the Internet. In a sense if the user engages in any Internet activity, information may be successfully collected about that user. Thus, even the most cautious Internet users are still being profiled over the Internet via dataveillance techniques from automated [Little] Brothers.
And so Apple is filing a patent to create a new type of evasive maneuver: the smokescreen of a clone.
The patent is worth a look, as is Patently Apple’s outline of it, but in essence, a clone of your identity could have a fake birth date, gender, income level, marital status, number and ages of children, hair color, etc.
Although, in fact, Apple says, it might be best to have your clone share some characteristics or confidential information with you: all the more likely that eavesdroppers think it’s the real you.
The clone could carry out a wide range of automated actions consistent with assigned areas of interest, the patent says, such as:
- Performing an internet search on a given area of interest
- Activating selective results that when analyzed conform semantically to the area of interest
- Activating advertisement banners in webpages
- Filling out electronic surveys
- Sending an email
- Engaging in rudimentary online chat discussion by using techniques similar to Eliza (an automated chat engine)
- Activating embedded links within a document that conforms semantically to the area of interest
- Registering for services associated with the area of interest
- Purchasing goods or services related to the area of interest.
It sounds great, doesn’t it?
But here’s the rub: why would Apple be interested in thwarting data collection? Isn’t it one of the huge companies that profit off it?
As Digital Trends’s Andrew Couts wrote, it all just sounds a little too good to be true:
In fact, such a technology feels out of place coming from any large corporation. As Apple itself notes in the patent: "Individuals, particularly American citizens, have always been suspect of the motivations and actions of their government and 'Big Business.'"
Well, it’s just a patent. Maybe Apple won’t ever get around to developing online identity clones.
But if it does, I’ll look forward to how the development affects privacy.
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