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Blown to Bits 91

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Ray Lodato writes "Few people would deny that the world has changed significantly since the explosion of the Internet. Our access to immense volumes of data has made our lives both easier and less secure. Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis have written an intriguing analysis of many of the issues that have erupted due to the ubiquity of digital data, not only on the Internet but elsewhere. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, published by Addison-Wesley, digs into many of the ramifications of making so much information available to the world at large. As I read through the book, I was alternately fascinated and horrified at what information is available, and how it is being used and abused." Keep reading for the rest of Ray's review.
Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion
author Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, Harry Lewis
pages 384
publisher Addison-Wesley Professional
rating 9/10
reviewer Ray Lodato
ISBN 0137135599
summary An intriguing analysis of how computers and the internet have fundamentally changed our personal lives.
While the subject matter is primarily about a technology that many people may still not comprehend, the book is written at a level permitting most people to understand how it affects them. There is sufficient tutorial information on how the Internet functions to allow all to follow the reasoning. For those more web-savvy, there are many references to web sites illustrating the authors’ points. The reader is encouraged to check them out as you go. While there is a natural flow from one chapter to the next, each one is sufficiently encapsulated so that you can read chapters in any order you like.

The first chapter of Blown to Bits sets the tone of the book by providing examples of how the new technology is both a boon and a menace. As an example of the former, Tanya Rider, who was trapped in her car after an horrific crash, was rescued days later by using the technology behind her cell phone to pinpoint the location of the cellular tower it was “pinging”. In contrast, 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after “Josh” (a fabricated personality) tormented her on MySpace. In each case, the law had a significant role to play. For Tanya, her right to privacy delayed the acquisition of her cell phone location records. In Megan’s case, no law was found to prevent someone from fabricating a MySpace “friend” and saying what they wanted. As the book continues, the clash between the current set of laws and the new capabilities in the digital world is continually spotlighted.

Two chapters are devoted to the vast amounts of data collected on our personal habits, and how the processing power of computers is making it easier for us to extract information that used to be difficult to determine. Most of the information gathered by various companies is permitted by us in the name of convenience. How many of us have signed up for store rewards cards, just to save a few buck here or there? The authors detail how those companies track our purchasing profiles for their own benefit, and sometimes share that information with others. In most cases, they point out that the use in innocuous enough, but the potential exists for damage to us in the form of invading our private lives. In the past, collecting this vast amount of data would require a large investment in people and processing power to extract useful information. The chapter “Needles in the Haystack” shows how the new computers we can purchase today make that power available to anyone with the desire to know. It is made very clear that this data mining is available to anyone with an Internet connection and the desire to explore.

Two other chapters dig into how information can be hidden in files, both deliberately and unknowingly. For example, the metadata that describes a document is stored along with the actual content, and that metadata may not be something you want shared. Another example is how sensitive information in an official document was supposedly redacted (censored with a black bar) yet, unknown to the document owner, the underlying document contained the entire text which was easily retrieved. Data encryption by the general public is a subject of great concern to governments around the world. The chapter on data encryption explains how the FBI attempted to hamper independent efforts to create a strong public encryption algorithm in the name of national defense. Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis weigh the pros and cons of unbreakable encryption in the hands of the general public with the need of the government to insure terrorist plots cannot be hidden from the Defense Department. This chapter ends with a discussion of how anyone using a browser to purchase goods on the internet uses encryption, and how that’s principally the only use of encryption by the average user.

The final three chapters explore the legal ramifications of the digital age, and how the judicial system has lagged behind. Many news stories have described the fight for ownership of media, especially in the case of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) suing many individuals for allegedly sharing songs. Blown to Bits goes into depth describing the issues on both sides of this case. RIAA’s filing of over 26,000 lawsuits in five years is given as a chilling example of how a large organization can abuse the legal system that has not yet adjusted to the new realities of the ease of copying original works. The concerns surrounding free speech on the Internet include the availability of pornography and inflammatory messages. How do you rationalize protecting those who do not wish to be subjected to certain text or images against the rights of those who wish to make them available? No clear answers are provided, but many facets of the discussion are revealed.

Blown to Bits is a fascinating read which will get you thinking about how technology is changing our lives, for better and for worse. Each chapter will alternatively interest you and leave you appalled (and perhaps a little frightened). You will be given the insight to protect yourself a little better, and it provides background for intelligent discussions about the legalities that impact our use of technology.

You can purchase Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Blown to Bits

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  • by RandoX (828285) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @11:22AM (#24859733)

    See also: Iowa Land Records [google.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thedonger (1317951)

      Forget about private data. Far more threatening is the amount of unchecked information. People use blogs who post blog posts from blogs who reference editorial pieces. Little fact-checking happens. Misinformation and mis-education spread like wildfire.

      Example: I read a story about how harmful the production of the Prius is to the environment. Every post on blogs and actual news web sites I found all came from the same source: a kid from a CT college writing an editorial using some out-of-date though not to

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Beale (676138)
        Do you have a source for that?
      • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @12:42PM (#24861009) Journal

        You just want to silence the conservative blogging world by forcing us to do "fact checking" so we won't be able to say anything that's too controversial and might conflict with your precious "reality."

        Stupid liberals are all in a tizzy when we don't let the mainstream media get away with turning the Superbowl into a hardcore fuckfest in front of millions of innocent children, but then they want us to fact check everything we say. No hypocrisy there, nope.

        • by tha_mink (518151) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @01:08PM (#24861417)

          Stupid liberals are all in a tizzy when we don't let the mainstream media get away with turning the Superbowl into a hardcore fuckfest in front of millions of innocent children, but then they want us to fact check everything we say. No hypocrisy there, nope.

          Hi Strawman, my name is Slippery Slope. How's things?

        • Stupid liberals are all in a tizzy when we don't let the mainstream media get away with turning the Superbowl into a hardcore fuckfest in front of millions of innocent children, but then they want us to fact check everything we say. No hypocrisy there, nope.

          Can't be worse than football.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Stupid liberals are all in a tizzy when we don't let the mainstream media get away with turning the Superbowl into a hardcore fuckfest in front of millions of innocent children,

          For starters, the goddamned superbowl is nothing but a national festival of ritualized violence in its most basic form. The goddamned Republicans have the balls to run a fucking war that's approaching a trillion dollars pissed way (with another one or two trillion to go, just in proper care for the returning vets), get over 4,000 Am

        • by Raenex (947668)

          What does fact checking have to do with conservative or liberal?

    • by BraksDad (963908)
      Those aree public records and you have a right to see them with a trip to the state or county seat. They just published that which is by law public. I agree though, perhaps it is now too easy to find information. I used similar data to see who owns the empty lots near my house. I wanted to know if it was likely to be developed any time in my life time. Very useful, but there was enough information there that I could sign up for all sorts of junk mail and have it sent to their house. Since I am in Florida,
      • by RandoX (828285)

        Do public land records usually come complete with SSNs? (I genuinely don't know).

        • by BraksDad (963908)
          Sorry, I posted incorrectly, I replied to my own message. Please read my reply to the parent of your comment.
      • by BraksDad (963908)
        I would expect that to be a state by state thing, but Florida, the answer is yes. Even though the owners live in other states, their SSN is public record on their land deeds. I laugh at the idea that we should shred our junk mail, it is simply too easy to get more and better identity information from public records. You can walk up to the county clerks office and get them to hand this kind of info to you. You can really twist the screws on a neighbor you do not like. Should you decide it suits you. You do
  • Wake up. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Anyone who is "horrified" at the amount of personal data available has not been paying any attention for the last decade or so.
  • I was alternately fascinated and horrified at what information is available, and how it is being used and abused

    Congratulations on being hysterical and full of yourself. Your heightened groupthink skills are a cautionary example to media consumers. You are "fascinated" and "horrified" exactly on cue. Your interests are exactly as required by the media leaders and the Slashdot editors.

    It's like back in high school when everyone wanted to show his individuality by dressing and acting exactly like everyone else. I don't understand why you people are so interested in privacy when you are all carbon copies of each oth

    • by name*censored* (884880) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @11:57AM (#24860313)

      ... Privacy isn't about being different, and it isn't necessarily about being unpredictable (although that can help). The idea is to protect yourself from things like stalking, identify theft, targeted telemarketers, and even just the idea that someone you don't even know can have so much information about you. I don't consider myself overly interested in privacy, but I can see how someone might be.

      Besides, even if they are carbon copies of one another (which technically you shouldn't be able to know, since the thing these people have in common is they hide their lives well), I don't see how that would diminish their point.

    • I don't understand why you people are so interested in privacy when you are all carbon copies of each other.

      And what about the people who aren't carbon copies of each other?

    • by lyapunov (241045) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @12:18PM (#24860617)

      Not to be a paranoid freak, but the subject of the parent comment made me think of Asimov's Foundation Series, in particular the concept of psychohistory.

      Campaigns, marketing and political, could be guided by statistical analysis of trends, frequency of ideas being introduced, etc... When this data is coupled with demographics it would be a very powerful tool.

      Applications of this would be the guerrilla advertising methods that I first heard described in "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson. Key people could introduce key ideas or augment existing ones in certain enclaves of people that in the past have initiated trends. Much like Locke and Voltaire in Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game".
       
      The truth is that is almost impossible to do this. Most people voices on the internet are muted by the shear volume of voices out there. Also, most people are not using the internet to engage in serious intellectual activity.
       
      By serious intellectual activity I mean challenging and expanding one's own ideas. I really detest a majority of the media, Fox News, provides a particular easy example of people wanting to hear what they already believe. It provides affirmation that they are smart because people on the tv are saying what they believe. I am sure it occasionally offers extended nuances to their own belief system but rarely challenges it.
       
      I took am guilty of this to a certain extent, but I recognize it as a weakness and try to address it. Between the Bush/Gore election and 9/11 I swore off network news. Now I read "The Economist" because it has non-US centric view of the world and listen to NPR on my way to work. It helps. But I must admit that I do not read books are articles defending "intelligent" design, when I am convinced of evolution. Maybe people believe their ideology so thoroughly that they choose not to challenge it...
       
      Damn, sorry for going off into the weeds and getting a little off topic.

      • by Otter (3800) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @12:57PM (#24861217) Journal
        You might want to rely less on science fiction books when explaining to the rest of us how uninformed and ignorant we are. It reminds me of the guy yesterday who was complaining about the quality of science education, as evidenced by his neighbors not knowing who the Borg are.
        • by gstoddart (321705)

          It reminds me of the guy yesterday who was complaining about the quality of science education, as evidenced by his neighbors not knowing who the Borg are.

          That, is hilarious. Knowledge of the Borg as a yardstick for science education. :-P

          I trust you informed him of the error of his ways?

          Cheers

        • by hellop2 (1271166)
          Resistance is futile. You will be educated. Beep. Bork.
      • by mr_mischief (456295) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @01:00PM (#24861273) Journal

        It's Locke and Descartes in the Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow series of books, IIRC.

        If you don't think the media already loves trend setters just for being trend setters, you haven't paid much attention to Us media for, well, your whole life.

        Sean Combs and Paris Hilton pitch burgers for cash. Do you really think it's because Paris Hilton eats thick burgers or because Sean Combs cares that Burger King is open late?

        Stars who made their names as actors and musicians are brought forth to endorse or oppose candidates. Alec Baldwin and Eddie Vedder both quipped that they'd leave the country if Bush was elected, but neither held up their end of the deal. I like both of them as artists, but this makes me think less of them as people.

        Jerry Seinfeld has been recruited to make Vista seem cool. His show moved nearly every product the show mentioned in dialogue off the shelves, so it might just work.

        People listen to pundits and political shills because the TV, radio, and web outlets make them famous for ... what? They're famous for saying things and getting people to pay attention. So they get more readers, viewers, and listeners because they have readers, viewers, and listeners.

        If you convince Oliver Stone of a conspiracy, he'll make a film and convince a million more people. If you get George Noory or Matt Drudge to briefly mention something as an outside possibility, you'll have some people convinced of it.

        Even repeating the same things in completely fictional works enough times forms public opinion. People watching shows like Dalls, The OC, and Friends tend to think all Americans live in big, comfortably appointed homes in trendy areas and drink $5 a cup coffee all day long.

        • by tha_mink (518151)

          Even repeating the same things in completely fictional works enough times forms public opinion. People watching shows like Dalls, The OC, and Friends tend to think all Americans live in big, comfortably appointed homes in trendy areas and drink $5 a cup coffee all day long.

          I've been thinking about that exact point quite a bit lately in the context of "big governement". I had the opportunity to work with some city forensic computer guys lately and was surprised at how little they can actually do. "Phone Dumps" and other monitoring type stuff is actually a bitch for them to get their hands on, while all the while I assumed it was like Law and Order. (ok not really but still, I think most people do) That leads me to wonder how many people really think that all the stuff that

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by PCM2 (4486)

            I had the opportunity to work with some city forensic computer guys lately and was surprised at how little they can actually do. "Phone Dumps" and other monitoring type stuff is actually a bitch for them to get their hands on, while all the while I assumed it was like Law and Order.

            The last two times I was called for jury selection, both attorneys felt compelled to belabor exactly this point. Both Law and Order and CSI were mentioned by name.

            In one case (real-life case now), a woman who was known to work as a prostitute had been physically assaulted by an alleged client (stabbed). Now, already someone who is a self-admitted prostitute and drug abuser is not the ideal defendant to inspire sympathy in a jury. Imagine, then, if the jury is also expecting to see DNA evidence and digitally

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Locke and Demosthenes...

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demosthenes
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Locke

          Both pseudonyms chosen for a reason as the OP alluded too. I guess no one actually bothered to understand that part of the story.

          • You're right. I knew it wasn't Voltaire, but I still got it wrong.

            How the hell do you assume that I didn't understand the choice of the names at the time, when it's been months since I've even seen the covers of those books? Do you recall every detail of every work you've ever read?

        • by Otter (3800)

          Jerry Seinfeld has been recruited to make Vista seem cool. His show moved nearly every product the show mentioned in dialogue off the shelves, so it might just work.

          The product references on Seinfeld were effective because they came across as a sincere part of Jerry Seinfeld's persona. (Maybe I'm just a sucker and Junior Mints and Jujubes simply bought their way onto the show, but given the lack of any other advertising on their part over the last few decades it seems unlikely.) The Vista ads are completely

          • IIRC, Jr. Mints were chosen as a backup - the candy was going to be M&M's but the writers couldn't get permission from Hershey to use the brand name. Jr. Mints was more than happy for the free pub and got millions worth of free advertising (and a resulting sales bump).

            Although many if not most actual products in shows these days are paid product placements.

          • I've read about Seinfeld's writing style and his endorsements of products on the show quite a bit. The character he plays is himself, and generally represents the real person only slightly more neurotic. His character's likes and dislikes were often his own tastes.

            The very fact that other people bought them because Jerry Seinfeld -- the man or the character he and Larry David based on him -- proves that people will follow a trend, though. Even if it was his real tastes and no money switched hands, he still

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tha_mink (518151)

        I really detest a majority of the media, Fox News, provides a particular easy example of people wanting to hear what they already believe. It provides affirmation that they are smart because people on the tv are saying what they believe.

        That coupled with this...

        I took am guilty of this to a certain extent, but I recognize it as a weakness and try to address it. Between the Bush/Gore election and 9/11 I swore off network news. Now I read "The Economist" because it has non-US centric view of the world and listen to NPR on my way to work. It helps. But I must admit that I do not read books are articles defending "intelligent" design, when I am convinced of evolution. Maybe people believe their ideology so thoroughly that they choose not to challenge it...

        could be argued as great hypocrisy. You listen to NPR because it affirms what you already believe. Plus, I know lots of people that consume the Fox News product so that they can continue to be disgusted by "the other side". NPR is no different than network news. It's people with an agenda. It's human nature. With a powerful platform, come powerful opinions. It's unavoidable. So, as you said, people migrate to what they believe. (for whatever reason)

        • by nobodyman (90587)

          Good point. I suppose that the best thing to do (if your truly are looking for truth rather than validation) is to acknowledge that all news sources have a bias, and use their biases against each other. That is, watch both Fox *and* NPR. If you see an event from multiple angles you'll be better able to form your own opinion.

          Here's my bias: I tend to prefer NPR, if for no other reason than the fact that it strays away from celebrity gossip. I think in the past year I've heard only one mention of Pari

        • by AP31R0N (723649)

          *sigh* i never have mod points when i really want them. Objectivity is a rare gift.

          +1 Insightful

          Reminds me of my old saying:

          "Voting is the act of supporting the person whose bullshit smells the most like your own."
          - Apeiron, 2004

      • ...already uses those methods (such as the survey and the focus group), and they are employed by various degrees to control populations through their desires and fears. We're talking about propaganda masters who have a working relationship with government psy-ops. This Adam Curtis documentary [archive.org] on this subject is excellent.

      • By serious intellectual activity I mean challenging and expanding one's own ideas. I really detest a majority of the media, Fox News, provides a particular easy example of people wanting to hear what they already believe. It provides affirmation that they are smart because people on the tv are saying what they believe. I am sure it occasionally offers extended nuances to their own belief system but rarely challenges it.

        Which is why I've come to love NPR (especially their podcasts as I have a long'ish commute). I regularly listen to discussions/debates on topics I either have never even thought of before or hear opinions which I disagree with. However, those opinions are almost always presented in a very eloquent, thorough, and respectful manner (something which rarely occurs in mainstream media since it requires more than 30 seconds to do).

        I like the quote from Robert Frost:

        Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

      • by tcstoehr (844891)
        You don't watch Fox cuz you think it's biased, so you go listen to NPR? And you're accusing Fox and their viewers of preaching to the choir? Unbelievable.
    • I don't understand why you people are so interested in privacy when you are all carbon copies of each other.

      Maybe on /. we're all "carbon copies" and even then I'm sure there are folks who, let's say, make adjustments to their point of view when posting here out of fear of being moderated down.

      Out in face to face personal interactions, I keep much of my life close to my chest. Part of it is fear of the reactions of my neighbors and potential employers. I wonder how many kids have lost job opportunities because of what's on their Facebook page? WTF does having a video of yourself partying have anything do with be

    • Well, Gort... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ElboRuum (946542)

      Seeing as you are just visiting our little world here from another, clearly more enlightened civilization where everyone is so purposefully iconoclastic as to be wearing a philosophical uniform, allow me to discuss with you to the nuances of the big blue marble on which you find yourself.

      You make the presumption that privacy is wasted on the predictable. However, the reality is that a lack of privacy encourages predictability.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Let me know when I can read it for free on the web. Dead trees give me the heebiest of jeebies.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @11:36AM (#24859991) Homepage Journal

    Who else was thinking of exploding batteries in ATT neighborhood boxes? Be honest.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Without the internet, no "fake but accurate", and all the fauxtography we've seen would have been unnoticed.

    Makes you wonder what lies have been successfully fed to everyone prior to having immediate access to a lot more information.

    • Even still, lies abound. If it weren't for lies we would not have politics. Also, how many faked cell phone popcorn popping videos have been circulated in the past 12 months? Unlock a car with a tennis ball any one? The information on the internet is only as accurate as the people who post it. Most people are lairs. Look at me, I don't post under my real name.
      • We all know you're actually "Anonymous J. Monkeypants IV", but we thought we'd let you scrape by with shortening it until you brought it up.

        As for no politics without lies, I'm a little skeptical. There would be a lot less politics, surely. Yet there would still be differing points of view and conflicting interests. People would be able to make value judgments on those points of view if the people presenting them were honest, though.

  • If I write up a positive book review on a book about technology from a perma-noob perspective and submit it with a amazon link /. will make a nickel from, will it pass the green light no matter how bad of a read it is? I bet it would.

  • If someone cant succinctly describe a book in screenfull, then something is wrong.
    • If someone cant succinctly describe a book in screenfull, then something is wrong.

      You need a bigger screen.

  • Doesn't anyone else see the irony? Information is not new. The distribution of information has changed and the ability to have infomration used directly by machines is new. The combining and mixing in the new media makes the information seem different.

    This is a *Book* about new media. The book being *sold* is based on technology thousands of years old and it is about new information media that cannot be (is not) used for its own sale.

  • Seriously did anyone else read the headline and think this was another article on how the Large Hadron Collider was going to end life as we know it?
  • by dontmakemethink (1186169) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @01:12PM (#24861489)
    I was expecting an indepth account of Data's encounter with Tasha Yar...
  • ... for me to go off the 'net and move into my cabin in Lincoln, Montana.
  • Well, it was useful while it lasted.

  • Not to be confused with the other Blown to Bits [amazon.com] which seems entirely unrelated. But is also quite a good book, a readable but serious book about business strategy for companies finding their traditional business damaged by the Internet. Do skip the first chapter though, IIRC it was a bit dull.

    Rich.

  • The internet has not made us "less secure". That's claptrap propaganda designed to suck money out of our pockets for questionable security enhancements that enrich someone's cronies.

    Count me as a non-customer for this book.

  • by 44BSD (701309)
    I read this book when Simson Garfinkel wrote it eight years ago, as Database Nation [databasenation.com]
  • Without reading anything yet, when I first saw the image on the cover of that book I thought I was looking at an orange version of the DVD cover of Donnie Darko [wikipedia.org]

    Obviously, looking closer, the cover of "Blown to Bits" is a pair of orange forearms, while the Donnie Darko image is of a translucent demonic rabbit, but still...

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