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Obfuscation: A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  279 ratings  ·  37 reviews
With Obfuscation, Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum mean to start a revolution. They are calling us not to the barricades but to our computers, offering us ways to fight today’s pervasive digital surveillance—the collection of our data by governments, corporations, advertisers, and hackers. To the toolkit of privacy protecting techniques and projects, they propose adding o ...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published August 2015 by MIT Press
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Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: media, business, audiobook
Not so much a how-to book, this is more of a why-to, with some examples included that provide some ideas of what-to-do. Many of the examples are from the non-IT world, like radar chaff and the use of common masks or uniforms to temporarily confuse the police in the immediate aftermath of a robbery. But there are also examples of internet-era technology obfuscation, including Twitter-bots hijacking hashtag terms, and services that robotically send out streams of unnecessary searches in order to h ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
The subtitle of this book is misleading; it's not a user's guide at all, but more of an introduction to and moral defense of obfuscation practices. ...more
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Obfuscation is the deliberate addition of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection.

The underlying driver for considering the deployment of obfuscation techniques is due to asymmetrical relationships, characterized by an imbalance in power in a relationship, especially one in which a weaker force seeks to redress the balance in the relationship with the adversary.

Now you know this, you can start reading...

This short but powerful little boo
Deane Barker
Nov 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book can only really be described as a manifesto. I don't know what I was expecting really.

It starts by identifying and offering a broad survey of obfuscation methods. And while clearly focused on technology, it discussed other, offline obfuscation: chaff deployed from fighter planes, something the orb-weaving spider does, and even the museum climax scene in "The Thomas Crown Affair." This, I found interesting.

But then the book took a left turn into...philosophy. It spends an inordinate amo
The book a collection of starting points for understanding and making use of obfuscation.
It is split into two parts - an analysis of the possible applications of obfuscation and obfuscation as a strategy for privacy protection; the ethical issues obfuscation raises and salient questions to ask of any obfuscation project. The authors took care to emphasize that in addition to privacy, it is not a replacement for one or all of the tools which we already rely on.
There is no simple solution to the p
Nov 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Fairly scattershot and overwrought. The chapter on ethics (unfortunately the longest) felt very out of place and was not greatly informative, contributing to the book as a whole feeling more like an academic essay rather than a "guide" to anything. The most interesting thing I got out of it was some insight into generalized "classes" of obfuscation or contamination that might be present in a dataset that one is analyzing, allowing one to compensate for them the analysis, though this idea wasn't ...more
Greg Stoll
Jun 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Decent, but more of a textbook than I was hoping for. The most interesting part was the first section where it talked about a lot of examples of obfuscation. TrackMeNot is a Firefox/Chrome extension that does random search queries in the background. ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Decent, but the font was annoying to read and the thread of thought seemed cluttered and the narrative hard to keep cogent at times. Still, I'm glad I read this. ...more
Apr 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ub
Nice little book with practical applications to ensure privacy for individuals; “getting your obfuscation work out into the world, where it can begin doing good by making noise.”


Obfuscation is the deliberate addition of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection.

Obfuscation has a role to play, not as a replacement for governance, business conduct, or technological interventions, or as a one-size-fits-all solution (again, it's a deli
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy, compsci
This was disappointing.

This book has two parts. The first part (chapter 1 and 2) is an introduction to obfuscation and has lots of examples. It's a great introduction, a mind-expanding survey of the design space for obfuscation techniques. Unfortunately, that's where the practical bit ends. With part two, the book devolves into armchair-theorising about the ethics and ontology of obfuscation.

Chapter 3 says some interesting things about information asymmetries. The authors quote Anthony Gidden's
Sep 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
I didn’t really know what to expect when I saw this book, I had been meaning to learn more about privacy techniques and modern surveillance. What I got was a weirdly deep dive into this small albeit interesting slice of the conversation on privacy. Pretty interesting examples of obfuscations use, from radar chaff to the Craigslist robber, but I think a subtitle like “a users guide for privacy and protest” is a little misleading - I’m left with knowledge about obfuscation, but not much about the ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book is so NOT what the title proclaims it to be.

There is no user's guide here, just yadda-yadda that comes off like a prosecutor's opening speech (what we intend to prove here . . .) or a school paper of the BBB variety.

There is virtually nothing useful to the "user", in the sense of how-to, or even much concrete in the why-to or what-to.

I really wanted a how-to, since privacy has become so difficult to maintain, even minimally, unless you can go off-grid. And with some advocates claiming
Apr 13, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice short intro for obfuscation. Not a practical manual for those interested in practicing obfuscation, but may be a good gateway for further research.

The most interesting part for me was the ethical and political arguments. Of course a book of this length cannot go in depth with those issues and takes a rather broad and shallow approach. However, it is probably enough to inspire one to dive into deeper material.
Very short book on Obfuscation. First part was informative to me, being new to this as it covered different techniques used in the past including WW1 and mentioned possible software that you could use currently. However, most of the book dealt with the types of obfuscation and the moral issues of obfuscation which I was less interested in.
Heath L LAwson
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Required Reading

I found this to be an excellent dive into the world of privacy. I paused for reflection numerous times in this book to evaluate the world around me.
Dana D.
Jan 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
Part I is interesting enough, but less than 40 pages.

Don't waste your time with Part II. It's a repetitive lot of navel gazing reminiscent of a term paper.
Paul moved to LibraryThing
Title obfuscates the contents. Not a guide. Should be titled: the politics and ethics of obfuscation. Interesting arguments but completely irrelevant to absolutely everyone except academics.
Kelsey Breseman
Pragmatic, amusing, philosophical, concise. Definitely a book I enjoyed reading overall, but occasionally quite dense in prose.
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: great
Basically a rundown of the different types of obfuscation, which refers to the strategy of mixing noise to signals to slow down or inhibit detection or catch-up by observers, enemies or competitors.
Thomas Jacques
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book. I highly recommend you stop whatever you are reading now and pick this one up instead
Jan 31, 2021 rated it liked it
A great introduction, but too brief at times.
Sep 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Like Kinney's "Hood," "Obfuscation" pairs a fantastic archive with disappointing analysis. The book starts, somewhat unconventionally, by front loading a great and extensive collection of case studies, largely, but not exclusively, drawn from the world of online big data. A certain orb-weaving spider as well as a fascinating initiative involving biometric-fooling face masks also make appearances. But it's mostly about online obfuscation.

So by the time we get to Part 2, the theoretical framework
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to love this book, but I didn't.

1 - The beginning pages are a great compendium of different types of obfuscation and how it could relate to protecting privacy. I enjoyed that part.

2 - It's also apparent that the authors really know their stuff and have dedicated a considerable amount of time and energy into doing the research on obfuscation and then relating that to privacy.

1 - The title is "Obfuscation: A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest", but it's not a friendly U
Nicolas Grasset
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The first chapter are extremely informative and the different sections are very up to date (January 2017). I skipped over the last part around ethics and political motive since it's really not what we want to read from the authors who otherwise managed to focus on a simple read. Most tactics are obvious but some were completely new to me, or the usage examples were. 5* rating because I strongly recommend it, and if we all know about it, obfuscation will work better for the few people who really ...more
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
A slim volume on a topic that needs greater attention and discussion. I found Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 on examples of obfuscation to be the most valuable and interesting.

The book doesn't acknowledge the possible value to citizens and consumers of providing truthful information. If we want governments and companies to take our views and needs into account, we need to provide truthful information - although that doesn't mean everything we do online should be available to the government.

I will thin
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
The value of this book is its focus and depth on the concomitant discussion of ethics when we think about obfuscation. Of course the authors talk about browser tools/plugins, technical methods, and older analog methods of obfuscation, but the book does a great job of going into threat modeling, surveillance, dissent, discussing Rawls' Maximin Principle, adding noise to data, etc. The authors note throughout that obfuscation is a tool (sometimes a very temporary tool) among many others in a good ...more
Oct 10, 2016 rated it liked it
For Digital Studies Colloquium. Although most of the language was clear, I don't think that all the concepts/techniques were fully explained. I also understand and appreciate trying to structure the book such that the two parts could be read in any order, but that resulted in a lot of referencing ("will discuss this more in x section") that wasn't really signposted or obvious when you arrived there. Or maybe I was just expecting a much more detailed discussion. ...more
Andrew Davis
An interesting account of huge amount of surveillance implemented on the Internet. Provides advice on the software add-ins to confuse the monitoring party. For example, a software TrackMeNot generates random search queries from our browser to hide our genuine ones and reshape our profile. The AdNauseam add-in clicks behind the screen on all the adds confusing the other party about the real ones selected by the user.
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I began it pretty skeptical of the underlying premise—how useful can obfuscation be as a privacy tactic against adversaries that do some of the most advanced data mining in the world—but left with a much better understanding of where and how it can be useful. Never should've doubted Brunton and Nissenbaum, of course. ...more
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Finn Brunton is assistant professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. He is the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet and the coauthor of Communication and Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest. He has written for the Guardian, Artforum, and Radical Philosophy, among many other publications.

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