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Requests made by geolocated. This is just ...

Requests made by geolocated. This is just from visiting the front page. (Visiting as myself, no ad-blocker and cookies allowed) Screen shot from the Big Brother Locator demo

Published: 2022-08-25

Big Brother locator

Some say we already live in a dystopia similar to one described by George Orwell in his classic novel 1984. Orwell describes a world where the totalitarian regime, led by a character called Big Brother, is watching everything everyone does to make sure they will not rebel against the state. It is probably not that bad yet, but we do know that we are being watched online. If not by the state, at least by dodgy corporations like Facebook that knows everything we are up to. Every time you visit a website that features any sort of Facebook interaction button your browser connects with Facebook's servers. A request fetches the components for the button and its functionality and merges it with the website you are visiting. At the same time Facebook gets information about you from the browser, and by using cookies they can link your visit to your Facebook profile. Most major web communities do this as well as most online advertisers.

Inspired by real time DDOS monitoring maps like this Netscout map I originally created the Big Brother locator as an installation for my office . A conversation piece projected on the wall. But before I got to it, someone broke into my office and stole my projector. So I converted what I had to this proof of concept / demo instead. It is a limited version of what I want to create. It visualises the locations of the servers receiving the requests triggered by a web page. Data is not aggregated over time which I first intended but it can still give you a pretty good idea of ​​who is collecting or has the ability to collect data from your browser. How this data is used and if it is sold or re-shared after it has left your browser is impossible to know. But it is reasonable to assume that your data is everywhere.

You can try the Big Brother locator demo here:

The demo does not aggregate tracking over time and it investigates only one website at a time. It is also limited to the request data made by one's browser. For this project to be relevant it needs to be able to catch all requests made on the network. Anything that can communicate with the Internet. I suspect that organisations, when they know it is really hard to detect, collect a lot more data than they would if we could see what they were up to. I have no idea what my phone is up to. What are the apps sharing and with whom? Is my vacuum cleaner sending details of my house somewhere? Who is my Xbox Kinect reporting to?

Once all necessary data is being piped through the Big Brother Locator it can create heat maps and toplists showing where most data is collected and by whom. Maybe you can even detect if someone is spying on you by comparing requests or patterns of requests to known modus operandi of intelligence agencies.

This is a video showing requests triggered by a when I opened their front page. In this example I'm using Chrome desktop browser without any ad-blocker and I allow cookies to be placed on my computer.

I just open the front page of each site. The pattern of requests is unique to me. Every visitor will trigger their unique pattern of requests based on previous cookies, geographic location, device type, time of day, contents of the page you are visiting and much more. Some websites trigger over a thousand requests for just one page view. British magazine The Daily Mail almost broke the Big Brother Locator. Other sites make requests to 20 different countries just to assemble the front page.

Try the demo to see what requests you will trigger.

All this tracking and anonymous requests is one of the reasons I started the Portals project.

Here are some more examples where I visited some of the most popular news sites on the Internet.

And where I used to work.


Big Brother locator

The tricky part of this project will be turning this relatively simple setup into a user-friendly plug and play solution that can monitor an entire local network. I think a lot of households and organisations would benefit from knowing who might be tracking them.

I'm not sure on what level to intercept the network traffic to get all requests and at the same time have a product that is easy to install. Should the Big Brother locator be a stand alone device? A router firmware? A separate app for each device?

7% Done
  • Present the idea (this article)
  • Create demo
  • Investigate suitable technologies
  • Decide which technology to go with
  • Develop app/code/device
  • Productify