Sunday, April 18, 2021

Privacy is Power (Revised and Updated): Why and How You Should Take Back Control of Your Data by Carissa Véliz


There is an irony, I think, in giving a book like this to a book reviewer and being all, "Hey, book reviewer, please review this book about the dangers of social media websites and algorithms on social media sites so algorithms can use your sphere of influence and the engagement of the people who follow you to help the author/publisher sell more books!" I'm not saying it's a bad thing-- at least, not on the part of the writer or the publisher-- but it just goes to show how entrenched social media has become in the quotidian details of our lives, from work to play.

PRIVACY IS POWER is a cohesive collection of essays that is intended to serve as a call to action to people to navigate social media a bit more safely and make them aware of the value of their data and how freely and carelessly some of us toss all caution to the winds. I've read other books about this subject and watched documentaries on it (one of my faves is the Adam Ruins Everything short, "The Terrifying cost of 'FREE' websites." By the end of the book, the reader learns about how social media giants like Facebook and Google mine users for data and sell them to third parties for profit, and not always in a way that seems completely aboveboard.

It's a great book. Sometimes the author seems like she's reaching a bit, though. I felt a little uncomfortable with the comparison of data harvesting to WWII-era Germany, for example, even though she was careful to clarify her point with some comparisons. It felt like the conclusion was a bit too A Modest Proposal for me. There were a couple other moments like this, such as the suggestion of starting a book club on privacy and then, in all seriousness, suggesting Dave Eggers's THE CIRCLE and Orwell's 1984 that kind of made me roll my eyes. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're out to get your data.

Overall, I think this book should be suggested reading for many people-- especially if you use a lot of smart devices or social media sites-- and something like this should really be part of the school curriculum. Apart from "don't talk to strangers," we were never really taught about online safety in schools and kids now are developing online profiles from a very early age (sometimes, in the case of over-sharing moms, from birth), so I am totally for everyone "interwebbing" safely, even if maybe I've taken a few too many hard knocks with the soma from BRAVE NEW WORLD in the form of social media usage. Reading a book really primes you to think critically about what you consume.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 out of 5 stars

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