A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist describes today’s world of indiscriminate surveillance and tries to evade it.
Angwin (Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America, 2009), who spent years covering privacy issues for the Wall Street Journal, draws on conversations with researchers, hackers and IT experts, surveying the modern dragnet tracking made possible by massive computing power, smaller devices and cheap storage of data. Such data sweeps, including increased police surveillance, gathering of information by private companies, and federal interceptions of phone calls and Internet traffic, constitute “a new type of surveillance: suspicionless, computerized, impersonal, and vast in scope.” Alarmed that personal data can and will be abused, Angwin conducted a yearlong experimental effort to make tracking her own information harder. With growing paranoia, she sought to evade tracking of her phone calls, online shopping, social media connections and other activities that might lead to impersonation, financial manipulation and other abuses. She used alternate identities and disposable cellphones; eschewed the search engine Google (which stores data) for DuckDuckGo (which does not); abandoned Gmail for Riseup, a privacy-protecting email service; unfriended 600 Facebook friends; and approached the nation’s 200 data brokers to try to gain control of her data. She encrypted many personal messages and made restaurant reservations using a credit card in the name of muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell. The entire exercise was exhausting, fascinating, obsessive and only partly successful: Angwin avoided most online tracking, concealed her true identity in making sensitive purchases and convinced some friends to share encrypted messages. Realizing that she doesn’t want to live in the world she has built of “subterfuge and disinformation and covert actions,” she calls for new laws to make data handlers accountable.
A solid work for both privacy freaks and anyone seeking tips on such matters as how to strengthen passwords (make them longer and avoid simple dictionary words).