Obfuscating Your Search History
The Haystack Project is an initiative for creating tools to obfuscate search queries with machine-generated queries that are designed to be as close to indistinguishable from the human generated ones as possible. This is ultimately to discourage the use of search histories as a source of user profiling and incrimination.
- David Huerta: Haystack Project Founder and Graduate design student at Arizona State University.
- Vincent Toubiana: TrackMeNot Developer and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at New York University.
The Haystack Project is an initiative for creating tools to obfuscate search queries with machine-generated queries that are designed to be as close to indistinguishable from the human generated ones as possible. This is ultimately to discourage the use of search histories as a source of user profiling. Our search tools are designed with the politically active in mind, and the technology we use to generate search terms retrieves content from sources that would be prone to "red flags" while also drawing in content from mainstream sources to create a composite mix of tracks that make it difficult to discern the subjects of interest for a human user. For more technical details, please take a look at our white paper at www.haystackproject.org.
The Haystack Project's first implementation is a proof-of-concept hybrid web/browser-based search interface that will use a GreaseMonkey userscript that can be utilized on Firefox, Chrome, Flock, Opera, and the Maemo Web Browser on the Nokia N900. This will differ from other privacy-aware search engine interfaces in the sense that no trust for "the cloud" is required; Our code will run client-side outside the cloud in a "puddle." An alpha version of this will be released for public use at the CFP Technology Fair at www.haystackproject.org, with source code published to Github under the AGPL earlier in the month of June.
TrackMeNot, now compatible with Firefox 3.6, is a lightweight browser extension that helps protect web searchers from surveillance and data-profiling by search engines. It does so not by means of concealment or encryption (i.e. covering one's tracks), but instead, paradoxically, by the opposite strategy: noise and obfuscation. With TrackMeNot, actual web searches, lost in a cloud of false leads, are essentially hidden in plain view. User-installed TrackMeNot works with the Firefox Browser and popular search engines (AOL, Yahoo!, Google, and Bing) and requires no 3rd-party servers or services.
TrackMeNot runs in Firefox as a low-priority background process that periodically issues randomized search-queries to popular search engines, e.g., AOL, Yahoo!, Google, and Bing. It hides users' actual search trails in a cloud of 'ghost' queries, significantly increasing the difficulty of aggregating such data into accurate or identifying user profiles. To better simulate user behavior TrackMeNot uses a dynamic query mechanism to 'evolve' each client (uniquely) over time, parsing the results of its searches for 'logical' future query terms with which to replace those already used.