Review: Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier

Review: Data and Goliath by Bruce SchneierData and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 400
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on March 2nd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Your cell phone provider tracks your location and knows who’s with you. Your online and in-store purchasing patterns are recorded, and reveal if you're unemployed, sick, or pregnant. Your e-mails and texts expose your intimate and casual friends. Google knows what you’re thinking because it saves your private searches. Facebook can determine your sexual orientation without you ever mentioning it.
The powers that surveil us do more than simply store this information. Corporations use surveillance to manipulate not only the news articles and advertisements we each see, but also the prices we’re offered. Governments use surveillance to discriminate, censor, chill free speech, and put people in danger worldwide. And both sides share this information with each other or, even worse, lose it to cybercriminals in huge data breaches.
Much of this is voluntary: we cooperate with corporate surveillance because it promises us convenience, and we submit to government surveillance because it promises us protection. The result is a mass surveillance society of our own making. But have we given up more than we’ve gained? In Data and Goliath, security expert Bruce Schneier offers another path, one that values both security and privacy. He shows us exactly what we can do to reform our government surveillance programs and shake up surveillance-based business models, while also providing tips for you to protect your privacy every day. You'll never look at your phone, your computer, your credit cards, or even your car in the same way again.

I should have saved this book for Halloween. It is possibly the scariest thing I have read in a long time, and all the more frightening because it is true.

Two things keep running through my head about what is outlined in this book. One is a play on this quote from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s not that “Big Brother is watching you”, but that “Big Brother and all of his pesky little brothers are watching US”. All of us. Every single one of us. All the time.

And that the late Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo from the late 1940s until the early 1970s said it best, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Data and Goliath gives readers a clear picture of just who Big Brother and all his little brothers are, and a good idea of what they are collecting when they watch. We also get to learn all the pesky justifications for why they watch and collect. Also what they do with what they collect, and how secretive and obfuscatory they are about their true purposes and their abuses of our privacy and any attempts at oversight.

Just as fascinating are all the things that are being done in the name of security that actually make us less secure in addition to making us less free. Some of that is truly scary.

The author doesn’t leave us without hope. This book is definitely a call for action, so there are plenty of ideas that can be implemented to address this streaming away of our privacy that claims to, but doesn’t actually make us more secure. The irony is that our increasing lack of privacy makes it easier, in fact downright simple, for those who wish to maintain the status quo to know in advance that we are moving against them, and for them to move against us, with all the power of the state at their backs, first.

Can we manage to get enough watch placed on the watchers in place before they make it impossible?

Reality Rating A-: The text is occasionally a bit dry, but the abuses of technology that it outlines are enough to keep the reader on the edge of their seat in spite of that. Because this is all true, and it’s enough to scare way more than your socks off.

One of the things the author makes abundantly clear is that we are all being watched, as in surveilled, all the time. Having a cell phone is enough to do that. Cell phones tell their carriers, and then anyone who has access to that data, where we are every minute of the day, within a couple dozen feet. From knowing where we are, it can then track who is around us, and from that, it can tell where we work, where we sleep, who we sleep with, where we eat, what we do for fun. Other tracking systems track what we buy and where we buy it, whether online or in real space. Anything we buy with a credit card is tracked. And even if we pay cash, cameras at the store we went to show what we bought and when we bought it.

The descriptions of just how easy it is to diagnose someone’s medical conditions by tracking their movements and their purchases shows just how easily one’s privacy, even about the most private things, can be breached.

And for those who say that there is so much information that no one could be looking for them in particular. Well, that may be true. But, if the government is looking for someone who is in your vicinity, your information will be scooped up and analyzed. And kept. If ten years from now what you bought or wrote today is deemed questionable, it is possible that something you forgot long ago could come back to haunt you.

For those who say that if someone has nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear, the arguments against that logic are pretty easily demolished. We are human, we all have things to hide – from the child who tells their parents they brushed their teeth when they didn’t to the worker who is searching for another job and doesn’t want their employer to know to the spouse who wants to hide a present or a special announcement until the right moment to the people organizing a surprise party. These are all things we want hidden, and none of the them are illegal or even guilty secrets (except maybe the non-toothbrushing child, but didn’t we ALL do that?)

As the author makes very clear, one of the big issues about this push-pull between surveillance and privacy is that we are often not aware how much of our privacy has been stripped away, or how much data is collected about us and how it can and will be used either against us or to sell us stuff that big computers are able to figure out that we might want based on all the tiny details they know about us.

Or to put it another way, we are not the customers of Google or Yahoo or any other search engine, we are the product. We get free search, and those companies collect data about us which they sell. We’re not the shepherd, we’re not even uninvolved bystanders watching as the sheep go by – we ARE the sheep. If you want to learn about all the ways that the sheep are being tagged, and who is looking at all the tagging and tracking data generated by the sheep, this book is a great place to being your search

There is always a question about “who watches the watchers”. In this book, the author provides the answer, and that answer is “no one”. And that makes me very afraid indeed..