Data and Goliath – Bruce Schneier

One of the really dumb things people frequently do is assume their strength and virtue. An introductory book to Ethics I read years ago suggested that “If you are virtuous,it may just be that you haven’t been tested enough”. I feel like even that line of reasoning is giving us too much credit. If we ourselves as virtuous,it may just be that we haven’t recognized the devil with which we signed the deal. Because all of us have made a bargain, but we have done so unwittingly. The bargain we have made has been with information technology.

Data and Goliath is look at the devil’s bargain we have all made with the various companies in the information technology food chain. We all get to have computers in our pockets that help us better manage our day to day life, but largely without really knowing it we are losing certain liberties in return. This book is a pretty detailed look at what exactly this Faustian bargain looks like, in pretty specific details.

If I had to introduce a new genre to describe the various books I have been reading, this one would fall into the genre of Explanations as to what is wrong with our world. This book can certainly be scary, and it is only the introductory look into the subject. A lot of the cases nominated in this book are somewhat aged at this point, and really only covered superficially well. That doesn’t change the fact that the level of data collection we currently live under is either creepy or horrifying, depending on your stomach for such things. This book will certainly exasperate those feelings, as there will certainly be some aspect of it that you were not aware of, be that too what extent it is happening, or just how many different agencies are attempting to gather your data.

Or perhaps I shouldn’t be so negative. I often feel like the devil’s bargain of information technology is really only such because of our ignorance of it. People toss around the fears that soon the companies that sell us things will know us better than we know ourselves, but never stop and justify to what extent that is a bad thing. As it is I feel like my friends know me better than I know myself, so what are a few more names on that list? Or, less jokingly, what if my constant monitoring by the companies I buy things from led to a reduction in our overall waste creation. I would pay the price of having my supermarket monitor my spending habits if it meant that they ended up with less wasted fresh produce at the end it all. That’s a result I can get behind.

Read this book. Become informed. Make your participation in the data economy an educated, selective one. Don’t be ignorant of the loss of your soul.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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