Wide Open Privacy: Strategies For The Digital Life

Authors: J.R. Smith and Siobhan MacDermott
Pages: 190
Publisher: IT-Harvest Press
ISBN: 0985460733


We live in a digital age where it’s become normal to see people post photos of their credit cards online, parents share on Facebook images of their newborns right from the delivery room, and offenders bragging about their crimes by posting videos on YouTube.

Not everybody is so extreme, but the fact that a great number of social networking users keep over-sharing personal information points to a global privacy problem that’s can’t be easily solved. Wide Open Privacy aims to inform the reader and arm him with a plan for getting a grip on privacy.

About the author

J.R. Smith is the CEO of AVG Technologies, a multinational corporation and big player in the consumer security software market.

Siobhan MacDermott is the Chief Policy Officer of AVG Technologies, having worked in senior leadership positions at some of the best U.S. and global technology companies.

Inside the book

The book explores the differences in privacy regulations and overall consumer concern in both the U.S. and Europe. One thing is certain – consumers feel that ads have become more relevant but at the same time that makes them worried about invasion of privacy.

The authors illustrate how advertising networks are able to follow your online activities and deliver surprisingly targeted ads. This will be eye-opening material for many.

The authors go into such detail that they describe the emotional and physical differences between real-world and online communication. It’s a fascinating read filled with details you may not even be aware of. How many times did you perceive an e-mail from a friend to be cold or negative while it wasn’t the case? Humans need context and the online world eliminates a great deal of that context. This is one of the reasons cybercriminals are so successful.

Generally speaking, the book provides a fine picture of privacy problems and shows just how much we give for convenience.

After reading the book I can’t but help but feel confused. We get a hyper realistic overview of every privacy invasion possible, but also a variety of text that reads like a manual – it’s basically boring.

I also can’t pinpoint the target audience for this book. One one hand we have material for the modern technophile, on the other the authors address the completely clueless first-time computer user. The latter will probably never buy this book in the first place.

A part of the book is dedicated to explaining to a completely novice user-base the absolute fundamentals of online threats, encryption, wireless security, etc. Given the title and premise of the book, I wasn’t expecting an explanation on what WEP is in the same book that discusses international privacy laws.

Some of the advice borders on complete paranoia and gives the impression it’s a guidebook for political dissidents waging war in a country ruled by a ruthless dictator. Example? “Keep your phone turned off as much as you possibly can”. Such advice is not practical for most people, to say the least.

What worries me is how the authors clearly don’t understand some of the things they’re writing about. Take wardriving for example, they say that for some it’s “a means for transacting nasty business on the Internet under cover of your identity”. Since when does wardriving mean stealing someone’s wireless network and identity? What is this “nasty business”, anyway?

Typos are inevitable, but misspelling the names of your competitors in the same sentence seems petty. It’s not Kapersky but Kaspersky, it’s F-Secure, not FSecure.

Another issue, perhaps just with the Kindle version I read, are the hundreds of references uselessly noted within the text. No links or explanations. Most of the time I didn’t know if the authors were referencing research papers, books, magazine articles, blog posts, or something else entirely. They were just distracting.

Although only briefly, the book also serves as a selling point for AVG products. I’m not saying they don’t make great software, but I think the book could’ve done without the marketing pitch, it’s tacky.

Final thoughts

Wide Open Privacy provides a wealth of valuable information, the problem is how that information is delivered. There are much better books on the subject of privacy out there.

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