[Review] Privacy and Big Data

Privacy and Big DataPrivacy and Big Data by Terence Craig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This O’Reilly Media book provides a thorough and easy to understand overview of the forces at play in the ongoing privacy discussion. The authors do a decent job of outlining some of the fundamental differences in the US v. EU approach to privacy, but the overview tends to create a false dichotomy between these two regimes, giving little weight to the Asian or 3rd world regulation of privacy, or the implications of a lack thereof.

I particularly like how they handle the discussion of advertising use of data (targeted ads are relatively innocuous, and are the backbone of the internet economy), and they make a fair attempt to bring the privacy debate past this point, directing further discussion and energy towards the real, more insidious and as yet unrealized potential harms from data uses.

I had to wonder, of course, about the business motivations behind the book. The writers represent their big data company, PatternBuilders, and I thankfully couldn’t fault them for not staying objective throughout the book. But in their broad survey of the current state of things, they’ve managed to not be at all prescriptive or helpful in suggesting what happens, or should happen next. For that reason, this book has a pretty short shelf life (that is, unless O’Reilly does their book update thing, which is cool in an “experiments in publishing” kind of way). Instead, they’ve saved their personal experiences and predilections about privacy for the afterward, which feels (not surprisingly) like an afterthought and a cop out.

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