Nietzschean counter information tactics
Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, once wrote that to speak much of oneself is also a way to hide oneself. His point being, I presume that he or she who blathers on will soon be lost in the noise he or she generates. This is an essential point in trying to predict future problems with information quality on the Internet, and possible ways that so called counter information tactics can evolve.
Counter-information tactics are different from disinformation. Disinformation can be construed as simply informing about things that are mostly false or misleading. Counter-information consists of over-informing and creating such a mass of information that the relevant information is drowned in the resulting noise. In a way, we can call the Internet itself a natural counter-information phenomenon. The amount of information that is added to the Net daily makes it less and less likely that you will be able to get at the information that is really relevant in a timely fashion. In fact, the Internet for many users have already reached a noise level where the amount of time and effort required to find information is often more valuable than the expected value of the information sought.
So we develop filters, as we always have in the face of information glut. One typical filter is the regular newspaper, the value of which is what is not reported, of what is left out. In the world of new technologies search engines, agents and new services offer different filtering services. All that stands between the information society and the noise society is the filter, the ultimate added value. Filtering is hard stuff, but the situation we are looking at is child’s play compared to what will come. Imagine a web publishing engine that publishes not one document, but a million documents all with only slightly different content. Further, assume that a company publishes the million pages on its (admittedly large) website. A search of this website will now be quite useless. But, you answer, wouldn’t the website be useless as well? Not necessarily. A company could easily connect the informative documents by linking them with the root document (index.html) and make it possible to surf, but not to automatically search the site. And this is only the very crudest way of creating information glut. What if someone creates a disinformation virus, that copy, publishes and only slightly changes web pages on a cluster of servers? Noise generating viruses such as these will be able to create enormous difficulties for search engines and agents, that do not know how to tell one document listing a persons phone number as 555111 – from another document listing it as 666111. Links, keys, or other information external to the information being sought after might imply the difference. Another way of accomplishing the same goal is to publish over massive clusters in much the same way as Publius (http://publius.cdt.org/publius.pdf) does. The Publius system will split content and publish it over several servers, and then make it possible only for users with keys to assemble the information. The system is open, yet not open to orthodox searching methodologies. Imagine taking a document and publishing it over a thousand different servers redundantly. No one server holds any searchable information, only a piece of the document, and an encrypted piece at that. How do you search information spaces like these? Another trick will be submerging oneself in the noise. The website SpamMimic (http://www.spammimic.com) offers a unique service that allows users to create steganographic ciphers that look exactly like that purest form of noise: spam. Any message can be transformed into spam. This is what “kill the president” looks like:
“Dear Decision maker, this letter was specially selected to be sent to you. If you no longer wish to receive our publications simply reply with a Subject of "REMOVE" and you will immediately be removed from our mailing list! This mail is being sent in compliance with Senate bill 1623; Title 4; Section 302! This is a legitimate business proposal. Why work for somebody else when you can become rich as few as 59 weeks! Have you ever noticed more people than ever are surfing the web plus nobody is getting any younger? Well, now is your chance to capitalize on this! We will help you turn your business into an E-BUSINESS and use credit cards on your website! You are guaranteed to succeed because we take all the risk. But don't believe us. Prof Anderson who resides in
Why would I send encrypted messages with PGP when I can send this hidden in the oceans of noise on the web? The developments I have described spell not disaster, but severe challenges for information analysis. How can these challenges be met? What can we do to integrate new evaluation and search methodologies into tools? At the end, it seems proper to return to our German friend, Nietzsche. As most of you well know, he is also the father of the infamous quote: “that which does not kill me makes me stronger”.
Let’s hope we get stronger.
Vice President, Stockholm Chamber of e-commerce
Tel: +46(8)555 100 87
Fax: +46(8)566 316 40
Nicklas Lundblad is a researcher in informatics and law, and vice president new technologies at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. He has written extensively on the new information society and is a member of several expert groups with the International Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Baltic Sea States, the EU-commission, the Swedish
Defense Research Agency and Eurochambres. He is currently finishing a book on anonymity, cryptoutopia and splinternets that will be published in the winter.