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The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  454 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
A respected futurist advances an argument sure to cause debate?in a wired world, the best way to preserve our freedom will be to give up our privacy.
ebook, 385 pages
Published May 14th 2014 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published 1998)
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Richard Derus
Sep 26, 2013 Richard Derus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4.5* of five

David Brin LIKES my review! *complete fanboy SQUEEEEEEEE*

The Publisher Says: �In New York and Baltimore, police cameras scan public areas twenty-four hours a day.
�Huge commercial databases track you finances and sell that information to anyone willing to pay.
�Host sites on the World Wide Web record every page you view, and "smart” toll roads know where you drive.

Every day, new technology nibbles at our privacy.Does that make you nervous? David Brin is worried, but not ju
Jan 16, 2012 Bria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This may be a 4-star book, but I was tempted to give it 5 stars just for David Brin himself. It's not quite as rare as one might think to have pretty good ideas and opinions about things, as David Brin does. What's especially rare, that David Brin has, is to not just be smart about things, but to *not be a dick about it*. Even if you don't care about privacy, even if you don't think it's worth your time to read a book about the internet from the time before the internet was really the internet, ...more
May 19, 2014 Miles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
David Brin would make any shortlist of my favorite public intellectuals. He is a man of many quirks, a loquacious contrarian fond of bizarrely placed punctuation and enthusiastic but sometimes strained prose. Those qualities, which so often show up in personalities that grate the ear and bore the mind, somehow come together in Brin with a kind of obnoxious harmony, one that taunts readers almost as much as it seduces them.

The Transparent Society is Brin's only nonfiction book, and while it is t
Apr 10, 2015 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book needs to be prefaced with the caveat that it was written over 17 years ago now - published prior to 9-11, pre-Snowden, and therefore many of its optimistic disclaimers as to the trust citizens can place in a government not to abuse its possible powers have been proven false, and indeed, are still very much to worry over. Brin's chirpy optimism that a correlative "transparent society" where "the watchers themselves get watched" is disingenuous since any watcher will go to greater and gr ...more
Jan 01, 2009 Alsha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting premise, and from a point of view I hadn't considered before, but ultimately it didn't need to be as long as it was. The structure of the book was basically a central idea which then got poked by a stick from a dozen different angles.

Three stars for changing the way I think... and for proving how very far technology has come even since 1998!! Brin's summary of the functions and capabilities of the Internet are no end of amusing: 'you can even play [text-based:] RPGs involving
Mark Ballinger
A not bad book, but sadly outdated by history since 1998. The idea is that a society where openness rules, but from the government to the people and people to government, is a society trending toward justice. This book could use an update!

"but the real impulse to force them open may only come after some band of terrorists manages to kill thousands with a gas attack, or blow up a skyscraper, or poison a reservoir, or 'dust' a city with radionuclides (sic). When this happens, many will call for dr
Oct 01, 2008 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: free thinkers
Shelves: favorites
A great thought experiment on the antithesis of the idea that privacy is sacred. Even if the book doesn't change your mind about the right to privacy (What is privacy? Is it the ideal?) it will at least make you think about it. This book is one that consistently informs my outlook on the world and society.

I would give this 5 stars except that the last few chapters lose their focus a bit. I got most information from the first 50-60% of the book, and the rest didn't really add much. Update: I gave
In The Transparent Society (1998), David Brin overviews various threats to our privacy in an age with increasing information technologies and proposes a policy of open reciprocity transparency. Arguing against "strong privacy" advocates who oppose a transparent society (20), Brin argues that "'reciprocal transparency' may be our best hope to enhance and preserve a little privacy in the next century" (55). He explores the various threats to privacy, most of which are surveillance (cameras, sensor ...more
Aaron Slack
n this non-fiction book, talented science fiction author David Brin (the Uplift series) makes a long and rambling case for a transparent society being the only way to prevent government and private entities from abusing new and existing surveillance technologies. I disagree. When government and/or public opinion outlaw a legitimate practice, all the transparency in the world, two-way or not, will not help. For example, what about China's one child per family policy, enforced with forced abortion ...more
Ben Stack
Dec 03, 2016 Ben Stack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brin is an exceptional futurist

This was written more than 20 years ago. I had to reminding myself of that because he predicted the impact of niche media via the internet, mass surveillance, proliferation of massively powerful internet connected devices i.e. smart phones.

What is good is very well thought pros cons impacts of privacy,government and transparency. It really made me think about these issues deeply and consider impacts I had not.

Sadly we have already tipped the scale away from our p
Joey H.
May 24, 2012 Joey H. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is mildly interesting as a study of privacy issues of the modern era. The problem with it is that it is written like a bad Wikipedia article - sometimes claims have proper references, sometimes they are completely unfounded and unprovable, and sometimes they are outright delirious fantasies. Brin, a science fiction author (if you read this book, he will remind you constantly of his many successes in the SF world lest you should forget how amazing he is,) simply did not have the desire/disci ...more
Dave Peticolas
May 10, 2014 Dave Peticolas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

What I love about David Brin is his optimism. He reminds us that, although things are far from perfect, they are much better now than in the past, thanks in large part to democracy and pragmatic empiricism.

In this book, Brin takes on the 'cypherpunk' credo that privacy and anonymity, as provided by the modern tools of encryption, are the keys to our freedom. Brin question not only the feasibility of obtaining true anonymity, but also whether we should want it at all. His main argument is that de

Although a few years old, the issues described in this book have only become more pressing. Brin's premise is an interesting one: preserving privacy is going to become almost impossible, so our only recourse is to make sure that we know who's watching us and hold them accountable. In other words, we must be able to watch the watchers. I'm not sure he's entirely correct that we can't protect our privacy, but I think his argument that we should have reciprocal transparency is a good one (although ...more
Joshua Mooney
Mar 14, 2014 Joshua Mooney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this as a required text for a graduate course on Information Policy, and liked it so much I ended up reading the whole thing, not just the required chapters. It is very refreshing to see a book approach the concerns of an increasingly interconnected society with something other than brackish paranoia or blithering optimism. In fact, to put it succinctly, the book is really about eliminating false binaries commonly held in regards to surveillance technology and increasingly sophisticated met ...more
May 18, 2013 JP rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book convinced me that this debate about privacy and accountability is among the most critical questions we need to be answering now in order to preserve what maintains our remaining freedom. Brin's discourse is clear and thoughtful. What I most appreciate is his consistently balanced approach, capped only at the very end with a strong stance of his own. The only thing this book needs is an update. Written in 1999, it anticipated the evolution of the web, but I'm sure the technology ...more
David Hill
Jul 27, 2012 David Hill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Transparency has been the great engine of science, markets, and democracy. Brin discusses how technology may affect society with regards to privacy, secrecy, and anonymity, the possible ways powerful oligarchies may shift power using surveillance, and how transparency might (should? will?) be the great equalizer.

The book was written before Google and Facebook and Twitter, before 9/11, before every cell phone had a camera and GPS. I was concerned that the book would be dated but the concepts are
Brian Holder
Aug 29, 2012 Brian Holder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I will admit that this book took me a very long time to finish but that is because of how dense I found this book and how much I have found myself invested in its arguments and positions. Even with sixteen years between its publication and now the concerns discussed are highly prescient in this post-9/11, post-Enron, post-Snowden world.
The book points out that we rail at government and corporate secrecy but we do so from opposite societal ends without realizing that these ends actually share a
Dec 27, 2007 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Brin has an interesting thesis: that the technology for privacy invasion has become pervasive, and that the important thing now is not to try to reclaim personal secrecy, but to embrace the technology enough to make it possible to watch the watchers. This book came out in 1998, and I read it in either 1999 or 2000; it would be interesting to read it again now after the experiences of the intervening years. I think I might find the thesis more compelling now than when I first read the book.
There is no turning back ... but where are we really going? Being old, I have seen most prognostications of the future wrong. We are, however, moving to more efficiency in natural resource use with stuttering progress in moving towards replenishable balance with the resources of earth. Global warming is the wakeup call, but world financial stability is the deciding one - money always speaks loudest. (There, I have prognosticated).

Godd read. Brin is brilliant.
Jay Sprenkle
Oct 10, 2013 Jay Sprenkle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed some of David's science fiction so I thought I would give his non fiction a try. Honestly I could not finish the book. If there's a point he's trying to make he approaches it pretty circuitously. I got through several chapters and felt they could have been written in two paragraphs. If you're impatient this is not the book for you.
Jun 14, 2012 Shiri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Brin brings a smart and well-composed treatise on transparency, privacy and freedom in an increasingly technological/pervasive age. Written in the 90s, not all his predictions have come to pass - yet - but others were remarkably precise. Whether you value privacy or freedom more, this book (while relatively long) is worth it.
Sep 18, 2008 Jereme rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Written as a corrective to all the anarcho-libertarian crypto stuff that was so terribly fashionable at the close of the 20th Century. Worthwhile and provocative if you're into this kind of stuff, but somewhat condescending. Also: way too many exclamation points.
Micah Erskine
Mar 29, 2007 Micah Erskine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People contemplating privacy issues.
This feels like an important companion non-fiction piece to David Brin's fiction title Kiln People. The ideas explored are best taken together.
Science For The People
Recommended on Skeptically Speaking show #90 on December 17, 2010.
Dec 16, 2014 Thomas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology
The book still has some relevance and some good insights, despite being more than 15 years old and therefore predating most of social media.
Dec 30, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology
Hard to accept this was written in 1998. Very prescient; only complaint is that Brin tends to repeat himself.
Nick Arnett
Jul 26, 2013 Nick Arnett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gotta give stars to any book that quotes me! As usual, David digs deep into the impact of technology. Very thought-provoking.
A good history and an interesting thesis, but eclipsed by the revelations of Edward Snowden. The argument for hard encryption in the hands of individuals is now irrefutable.
Apr 10, 2007 Todd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
They will have the information, so we might as well too. Besides, the only people who have a lot to hide are the people who do something wrong.
Jan 04, 2014 Jean-Marc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bien que datant d'une quinzaine d'années, cet essai est brillant, dans l'analyse de la situation, dans les solutions proposées et par son écriture.
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David Brin is a scientist, speaker, and world-known author. His novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Existence, his latest novel, offers an unusual scenario for first contact. His ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and near-future trends
More about David Brin...

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“Every time humans discovered a new resource, or technique for using mass and energy, one side effect has always been pollution. Why should the information age be any different from those of coal, petroleum, or the atom?” 2 likes
“First they came for the hackers. But I never did anything illegal with my computer, so I didn’t speak up. Then they came for the pornographers. But I thought there was too much smut on the Internet anyway, so I didn’t speak up. Then they came for the anonymous remailers. But a lot of nasty stuff gets sent from, so I didn’t speak up. Then they came for the encryption users. But I could never figure out how to work PGP anyway, so I didn’t speak up. Then they came for me. And by that time there was no one left to speak up. WIDELY COPIED INTERNET APHORISM, A PARAPHRASE OF PROTESTANT MINISTER MARTIN NIEMOLLER‘S STATEMENT ABOUT LIFE IN NAZI GERMANY” 1 likes
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