There have been plenty of warnings about corporations profiting from data and compromising privacy, but this straightforward analysis never succumbs to alarmism while letting the facts speak for themselves.
New York Times “Datapoints” columnist Bernasek (The Economics of Integrity, 2010, etc.) and finance lawyer Mongan are plainly well-versed in their topic, but once they get past some macroeconomic table setting, they build a case that will hit home with the personal finances of any reader who has ever done anything online. The authors understand how to write about specialized topics for a general readership, and they deliver their most frightening news in the most understated, straightforward manner: “Virtually everything about us is known and collected by someone,” they write. And if that weren’t enough: “The most detailed report prepared by analysts working for the Stasi or the KGB…doesn’t begin to compare with the comprehensive data wake shed by each consumer. Every minute of the day we shed data in profusion.” As our devices reveal what we want, what we buy, where we are, and who we are, we are caught in “the trend from mass markets to mass customization,” one for which we pay a cost in loss of privacy and often in actual dollars. Those who benefit are the Big Ten of corporations that collect data (Amazon, Google, Facebook et al.), engaging in what the authors term a “world-wide data war, ‘World War D.’ ” The problem is that the book does such an effective job of stating the significance, depth, and expanse of the threat that the solutions seem like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. Hope lies in what the authors call “Data Environmentalism,” raising the consciousness about this threat the way Silent Spring sparked the environmental movement.
Well informed and useful. The authors stress that the ultimate answer is “you,” but will you read all the fine print to educate yourself?