Image: Martin Nadal
Martin Nadal, an artist and coder based in Linz, Austria, has created FANGo, a "defense weapon against surveillance capitalism" that is disguised as a mobile phone charger.On his page introducing the device, Nadal explains that the inside of the charger hides a micro controller that takes control of an Android smartphone by accessing the operating system’s Debug Mode. The device then makes queries and interacts with pages on Google, Amazon, YouTube, and other sites "in order to deceive data brokers in their data capture process." It works similar to a fake Apple lightning cable, now mass-produced, that hijacks your device once connected.
Tools to frustrate tracking attempts by advertisers or data brokers are not new—AdNauseam is a plugin that clicks on all ads, while TrackmeNot does random searches on different search engines. Such projects, however, exclusively focus on desktops and web browsers. "Today we interact with the internet from the mobile mostly,” Nadal told Motherboard in an email. “We also use applications, where there is no possibility of using these plugins that hinder the monitoring making the user helpless."The device’s name is an acronym for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, who represent some of the most profitable companies in the world. Nadal, however, sees them as the engines of surveillance capitalism, a theorization of contemporary capitalism by Susanna Zuboff, a Harvard Business School professor emeritus."What struck me the most is the idea that surveillance capitalism feeds on human experiences to turn them into predictions about our behavior," Nadal told Motherboard. "I find this approach specifically evil and that is where the idea of creating a 'weapon against surveillance capitalism' caught my interest."The result is an economic system where data-hungry companies pursue profits by exploiting human behavioral data to manipulate human behavior.As a result, FANGo has a simple mission: disrupt the mechanics, add noise to the extracted data, and poison the quality of the data so that it can't be reliably used or sold. There are other ways you can poison your data as well, whether by literally filling Facebook posts with nonsense or browsing the internet while leaving a fake data footprint.Nadal is working on adding new features that might take such poisoning even further, using techniques such as geolocation spoofing. "[W]hile my phone is quietly charging at home, the data brokers think that I am walking or dining in another part of the city or world," he said.