Choose what you protect, because anonymity is really hard.

Pregnant belly

Meet The Woman Who Did Everything In Her Power To Hide Her Pregnancy From Big Data | ThinkProgress

Janet Vertesi, sociology professor at Princeton, recently tried an on-line experiment. She had just discovered that she was pregnant, and wanted to see if it would be possible to hide that fact from “big data”. Could she prevent advertisers and social media companies from discovering this one fact, and using it to profile and target her.

Janet only tried to hide this one fact. She used pre-payed payment methods, TOR anonymity tools, and took great pains to prevent her “friends” from mentioning the pregnancy on any social media platforms. She had already opted out of using Gmail, which would have been scanning her emails as well.

While she was able to be reasonably effective, the effort and cost involved was significant, and there were some slips from within her social network. This is a great demonstration of the idea that you really need to be specific about what it is you want to hide. The personal and social costs of trying to stay “off the grid” completely are completely unacceptable for most people. The more you can identify and isolate just the individual facts or activities you want to protect, the easier it is and the more likely you will succeed.

Lance Cottrell is the Founder and Chief Scientist of Anonymizer. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.