Vernacular resistance to data collection and analysis: A political thepry of obfuscation

Finn Brunton, Helen Nissenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Computer-enabled data collection, aggregation, and mining dramatically change the nature of contemporary surveillance. Refusal is not a practical option, as data collection is an inherent condition of many essential societal transactions. We present one vernacular response to this regime of everyday surveillance, a tactic we call obfuscation. With a variety of possible motivations, actors engage in obfuscation by producing misleading, false, or ambiguous data with the intention of confusing an adversary or simply adding to the time or cost of separating bad data from good. Our paper develops a political philosophy of obfuscation, linking contemporary and historical cases to develop a descriptive account of obfuscation that is able to capture key commonalities in systems from radar chaff to BitTorrent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFirst Monday
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


Dive into the research topics of 'Vernacular resistance to data collection and analysis: A political thepry of obfuscation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this