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Fifty years ago, in 1984, George Orwell imagined a future in which privacy was demolished by a totalitarian state that used spies, video surveillance, historical revisionism, and control over the media to maintain its power. Those who worry about personal privacy and identity—especially in this day of technologies that encroach upon these rights—still use Orwell's "Big Brother" language to discuss privacy issues. But the reality is that the age of a monolithic Big Brother is over. And yet the threats are perhaps ...
Fifty years ago, in 1984, George Orwell imagined a future in which privacy was demolished by a totalitarian state that used spies, video surveillance, historical revisionism, and control over the media to maintain its power. Those who worry about personal privacy and identity—especially in this day of technologies that encroach upon these rights—still use Orwell's "Big Brother" language to discuss privacy issues. But the reality is that the age of a monolithic Big Brother is over. And yet the threats are perhaps even more likely to destroy the rights we've assumed were ours.Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century shows how, in these early years of the 21st century, advances in technology endanger our privacy in ways never before imagined. Direct marketers and retailers track our every purchase; surveillance cameras observe our movements; mobile phones will soon report our location to those who want to track us; government eavesdroppers listen in on private communications; misused medical records turn our bodies and our histories against us; and linked databases assemble detailed consumer profiles used to predict and influence our behavior. Privacy—the most basic of our civil rights—is in grave peril.Simson Garfinkel—journalist, entrepreneur, and international authority on computer security—has devoted his career to testing new technologies and warning about their implications. This newly revised update of the popular hardcover edition of Database Nation is his compelling account of how invasive technologies will affect our lives in the coming years. It's a timely, far-reaching, entertaining, and thought-provoking look at the serious threats to privacy facing us today. The book poses a disturbing question: how can we protect our basic rights to privacy, identity, and autonomy when technology is making invasion and control easier than ever before? Garfinkel's captivating blend of journalism, storytelling, and futurism is a call to arms. It will frighten, entertain, and ultimately convince us that we must take action now to protect our privacy and identity before it's too late.
"Database Nation" is a compelling account of how invasive technologies will affect peoples lives in the coming years. It's a timely and thought-provoking look at the serious threats to personal privacy. The book poses a disturbing question: how can citizens protect their basic rights to privacy, identity, and autonomy when technology is making invasion and control easier than ever before?
Rather than see these beguiling innovations as a positive development, veteran tech writer Simson Garfinkel sees them as enablers of a technological future in which our personal preferences and private lives are thrown open for all to see and cash in on. In his new book, Database Nation, he launches into a meticulous examination of the seemingly endless ways in which our privacy is under attack.
This isn't simply another cautionary tale about the Internet. Garfinkel has the historical vision and storytelling chops, both sorely lacking among today's tech and business press, to stitch together an exhaustive range of topics - medical records, biological warfare, United Parcel Service's package tracking system, even satellite pictures of Earth - into a panoply of privacy concerns. The Internet is just the tip of a very frightening iceberg.
Garfinkel is both a skeptic and an enthusiast of new technology: For five years, he relied on a voice-recognition system to guard his house rather than a lock and key. And with the exception of a gloomy prediction for a future filled with nuclear or biochemical terrorism, Database Nation is mostly an earnest call to arms (he even ends with a "Privacy Now" manifesto).
Indeed, the book devotes much of the last 100 pages to the growing threat of terrorism and the "democratization" of deadly weapons. It's the "irrational terrorist," the loner who cares little about the repercussions of his actions, who scares Garfinkel and forces him to side, to some extent, with government. In the process, though, he relegates skeptics of the government's good intentions to a few meager quotes.
Unlike many in the tech industry, Garfinkel welcomes legislation to rein in private industry. He draws on the early history of the information-collection business to make his point: "Left to its own devices, private industry created a system in the 1960s that was tremendously unfair to private citizens. Yes, there was a free information market, but it was a market in which only businesses could participate."
He's no Pollyanna about government abuse either, citing a litany of cases including the World War II internment of Japanese Americans and the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. Nevertheless, it isn't a centralized government database Garfinkel fears - it's the unchecked, unregulated power of marketers.
For those who claim that improved technology will allow advertisers to target consumers with personal, customized offers, Garfinkel foresees a future snag: A man decides to take his mistress to New York for Valentine's Day. His airline and hotel reservations trigger a flood of "personalized" ads once he's back home that hawk special offers from every romantic eatery and jewelry store in Manhattan.
It's not only spam that worries Garfinkel. It's the power that businesses wield with personal information. Take the case of a Los Angeles man who injured his leg in a supermarket; when he sued, the market used records of his alcohol purchases to malign his character. Our "data shadows" - a term coined by Columbia professor Alan Westin - "force us to live up to a new standard of accountability," Garfinkel writes. "And because the information that makes up these shadows is occasionally incorrect, they leave us all vulnerable to punishment or retaliation for action that we did not even commit."
Sure, such inaccuracies are not the norm. But even in the best-case scenarios offered by information gatherers, any margin of error can ruin hundreds of lives. The Medical Information Bureau, the insurance industry's private clearinghouse of medical data, boasts a 97 percent accuracy rate. Unfortunately, that leaves hundreds of people with inaccuracies that could determine the price of their insurance - or whether they get insurance at all.
For all but the most studied privacy expert, Database Nation will provide not only valuable history and insight, but a rousing call to arms. For marketers on the Net, Garfinkel's book shows what they're likely to be up against from newly awakened customers.
Chapter 1: Privacy Under Attack
Chapter 2: Database Nation
Chapter 3: Absolute Identification
Chapter 4: What Did You Do Today?
Chapter 5: The View From Above
Chapter 6: To Know Your Future
Chapter 7: Buy Now!
Chapter 8: Who Owns Your Information?
Chapter 9: Kooks and Terrorists
Chapter 10: Excuse Me, But Are You Human?
Chapter 11: Privacy Now!
Chapter 12: Epilogue: One Year Later
Appendix A: Annotated Bibliography
Posted November 16, 2004
You will with this title. It covers a great deal on computer ID and other such material. However, I found it a bit weak on privacy countermeasures. There are other books that will supplement this greatly, like 'The Digital Umbrella' by John Bennett Jr.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 28, 2004
Many people know the term and some may even be familiar with what they do and how they work but how many actually know the extent of their usage? This book will shed some light on that through a detailed and well-thought approach to the topic. I'm a member of the 'paranoid' club but for good reason! Just check your credit report for errors and you'll see what a database can do.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 22, 2002
Simson Garfinkel¿s Database Nation is a frightening account of how our privacy is being infringed upon by government, industry and certain individuals. It illustrates how ordinary citizens¿ private information is obtained by individuals and organizations that want to exploit the data to their advantage. The information can be obtained from driver¿s licenses, credit card purchases, and medical records, just to name a few. The book is insightful and fast-reading. It will prompt you to take control of your life and wonder, "Who is watching me now?" Garfinkel¿s intent is not to scare his readers, but to inform unsuspecting citizens that an increasing percentage of our daily activities are being captured by databases across the world. Our personal privacy is threatened with the use of fingerprinting and human marking to document and identify individuals. Whereas this means of identification was created to prevent identity theft, solve crimes, and eliminate computer error, some states are now able to sell this information to private businesses because they are part of the public record. Garfinkel¿s research on these topics is extensive. Not unlike George Orwell¿s book 1984, we are also under constant surveillance. The stores we shop at, offices we work in, roads we drive on, and establishments we frequent are capturing our video images and placing them in databanks across the nation. Even surveillance satellites are able to capture minute details of a person. Our personal information is a commodity--it¿s what marketers use to solicit people. Chapter 11: Privacy Now! provides us with examples and ways in which we can fight back as a nation to protect our right to privacy. However, it does not provide individuals with strategies for protection. Humans have come to rely on computers and data processing at the expense of the individual. The problem is that the smallest clerical error can destroy a person¿s life. Garfinkel compares his book to Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, which planted the seeds for the environmental movement. Likewise, Database Nation sets the stage for the legislation and regulation of privacy in the twenty-first century.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 7, 2002
Mr. Garfinkel brings into light what many of us have been discussing a lot lately, PRIVACY on the net. It is amazing how companies can track a customer¿s every move over the Internet. And the possibility of linking various databases together so that companies can pay to have our ¿private¿ information including medical records, spending habits, etc. is absolutely an invasion of privacy. This book helps a novice such as me to understand how the system works and how damaging that could be. This is a must read for every citizen to look at because we are all prey to this technology.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 11, 2001
After reading this book, one might conclude that Orwell's vision of society he portrayed in his book, '1984' isn't too far off from reality. While Garfinkel at times writes of potentially far-fetched scenarios in some chapters, the truth is they really aren't unrealistic. Stories of database information theft, human error and fraud, marketers having access to virtually all information about you, among others, abound in this book. While the information presented is potentially scary, it's better to take a deep breath and determine ways to fight this invasion of your privacy, which the author provides in the book's last chapter. And it's also his hope the book will be to the privacy fight what Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was to the environmental movement. Indeed, it is an at times chilling indictment of how technology and the Government can appear to know everything about us, down to what size of shoes we wear. If you care about maintaining or at least attempting to maintain some control over your privacy, this book is an excellent one to have.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 25, 2001
On the one hand, I'm largely sympathetic to Garfinkel's concerns about privacy, but his over-dramatization of the issues (which may simply have been done to help sell his book) causes him to lose a lot of credibility. It also doesn't help that his understanding of technology is (to put it tactfully) flawed. If you subscribe to the theory that corporations are run by an evil cadre who spend their time figuring out how to take over the world, by all means read this book. However, if you want a more thoughtful, less paranoid perspective on things, look elsewhere.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2000
The author has written a very researched and well documented book regarding a very broad and sensational subject. Perhaps the book is too short to cover the many issues. Certainly the book will be of interest to many people but I believe it does not provide a balanced view of the value information has provided. As a Private Investigator, I utilize many of the sources and databases discussed for legitimate and legal purposes. Perhaps the desire to further raise the fear of the general public has resulted in many of these purposes being ignored in this book. The reader will find the book of value only depending on exactly what the reader expects to get from it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.