Data and Goliath: The hidden battles to capture your data and control your world
by Bruce Schneier

W. W. Norton & Company 2015.
ISBN 978-0393244816
Table of contents:

Reviewed by  Richard Austin   Mar 12, 2015 

By the time this review is published, I predict that Schneier's book will have been reviewed in multiple places and will have spent time on the NYT bestsellers list so I'm not going to write yet another summary of the book. What I am going to do is summarize what I liked about the book and why you should read it, share it with your friends and even send copies to your elected representatives.

We live in a world of data - it's harvested, stored, analyzed, reported and used to make important decisions ranging from what ads your search engine highlights to the security screening you face at the airport. And, as the Snowden revelations have shown, there's an extensive private/public infrastructure dedicated to harvesting, storing and acting on data.

There's been a growing susurrus of concern about all this data gathering and decision making but the details have always seemed too technical and remote for a large majority of the people whose data is involved. Schnieer tackles the issues in a clear, readable presentation that is accessible to the general reader.

He organizes the book into three parts: the first ("The World We're Creating") is a masterful summary of how intensive the harvesting of data actually is and the economic incentives that drive it; the second ("What's at Stake") delves into the societal implications of this surveillance-driven world; and the third (What to Do About it) proposes ways this data-addiction can be brought under control.

The first two parts of the book explain our surveillance culture in detail and analyze the many false trade-offs (e.g., security vs. privacy) and collateral impacts (such as the post-Snowden reduced competitiveness of US products and services). As in any such presentation, the author will have to face the disbelief that such things are actually happening and Schneier meticulously documents the sources behind his writing in a notes section that occupies about a third of the book.

What really sets this book apart is not its detailed examination of how bad things are but rather the proscriptive actions for improving the situation. Chapter 12 ("Principles") states the basic principles ("Security and Privacy", "Transparency", "Oversight and Accountability", "Resilient Design", "One World, One Network, One Answer") guiding the way forward in dealing with our surveillance problem. The angels are in the details, of course, and Schneier spends the following three chapters spelling out how governments, corporations and people can apply them.

This is a controversial book that will be both praised and vilified. We owe a debt of gratitude to Bruce for bringing these issues together in one place and exploring them in a clear and understandable fashion. Read this book. Loan it to your friends. Send copies to your elected representatives. But most importantly, think about the principles and apply them in what you do. Our surveillance society was not built by a cabal of faceless monsters but by talented professionals seeking to solve a set of problems. We built this system and we can also help change it.

It has been said "Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out" so Richard Austin ( fearlessly samples the wares of the publishing houses and opines as to which might most profitably occupy your scarce reading time. He welcomes your thoughts and comments via raustin at ieee dot org