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Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance

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An inside look at who's watching you, what they know and why it matters. We are being watched.

We see online ads from websites we've visited, long after we've moved on to other interests. Our smartphones and cars transmit our location, enabling us to know what's in the neighborhood but also enabling others to track us. And the federal government, we recently learned, has been conducting a massive data-gathering surveillance operation across the Internet and on our phone lines.

In Dragnet Nation, award-winning investigative journalist Julia Angwin reports from the front lines of America's surveillance economy, offering a revelatory and unsettling look at how the government, private companies, and even criminals use technology to indiscriminately sweep up vast amounts of our personal data. In a world where we can be watched in our own homes, where we can no longer keep secrets, and where we can be impersonated, financially manipulated, or even placed in a police lineup, Angwin argues that the greatest long-term danger is that we start to internalize the surveillance and censor our words and thoughts, until we lose the very freedom that makes us unique individuals. Appalled at such a prospect, Angwin conducts a series of experiments to try to protect herself, ranging from quitting Google to carrying a "burner" phone, showing how difficult it is for an average citizen to resist the dragnets' reach.

Her book is a cautionary tale for all of us, with profound implications for our values, our society, and our very selves.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published February 25, 2014

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Julia Angwin

7 books18 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews159k followers
January 12, 2015
This book reads as both a history of government/corporate spying, and a how-to on protecting oneself online. Honestly, before reading this, I didn’t really care about internet privacy. I figured that I don’t do anything illegal online, so who cares if the NSA or Target sees what I’m doing? Angwin points out, however, that the privacy I didn’t care much about was written into the Constitution, and played a part in the American Revolution. When the Brits enacted house-by-house searches without any proof of wrongdoing, the Colonists threw up their arms and said enough is enough. Reading this book will terrify you a little bit, as well as encourage you to take a good hard look at your Google habits.

Verdict: Buy. It’s handy as a how-to on internet privacy.

-From Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Big Data/Big Brother- http://bookriot.com/2015/01/12/buy-bo...
Profile Image for Todd N.
339 reviews238 followers
March 16, 2016
I was skimming the other reviews on Goodreads before writing my own, and I was really surprised to read so many negative-to-lukewarm ones because I thought this was a really well-written book that made a lot of good points.

I’ve been reading through a lot of books in the area of security of privacy, and I think the first couple of chapters contain one of the best summaries of the way we are being tracked, especially by the commercial/advertising side of things.

The remaining part of the book details her attempts, sometimes laughable attempts, to avoid getting caught up in the electronic dragnet like the rest of us chumps.

The main criticisms of this book fall into these main categories:

1. The book conflates government and commercial data collection: Sorta true. I’d recommend Mr. Greenwald’s book for the lowdown on the Snowden revelations. Ms. Angwin mainly concentrates on what wireless providers, internet companies, and data brokers — sensibly so, since we can take them on without winding up in Gitmo.

2. There aren’t enough practical tips: Definitely true. Since there are copious footnotes and a detailed index, Ms. Angwin might as well have thrown in a list of resources or at least a taxonomy of privacy tools and services. However, this complaint misses the main point of the book, which is that privacy in our modern surveillance state is not actually possible in a reasonable sense.

3. The book is too specific to Ms. Angwin’s life: Sorta true. I think this also misses the point of the book that you have a tech-savvy (more savvy than she’s letting on, in my opinion) journalist awash in upper-middle class privilege and with all sorts of contacts in the privacy field who is pretty much unable to control her on-line information. We can guess that it will be at least as hard for just about everyone else.

3a. I will admit that there is a hint of a whiff of those journalist stunt books, like that doofus who lives out the rules in the Bible or reads the dictionary or whatever. But the topic of privacy is so serious that it is actually a worthwhile experiment to see how it goes and what she’s up against.

4. The ol’ “I have nothing to hide” argument: Since someone that stupid wouldn't be able to finish a book, I am forced to conclude that these reviews are part of a government disinformation campaign.

With that out of the way, there is a lot of good stuff in this book. I especially liked the historical perspective on the 4th amendment and why the Founding Fathers (which included Moses if you live in Texas, by the way) were so uptight about search and seizure. And that is followed by how pre- and post-Internet court decisions have chipped away at these protections.

I learned some things that I didn’t know before, like email that is more than 180 days old and stored with a 3rd party can be searched without a warrant. That sucks. Maybe this is why Hillary is running her own mail servers, and maybe I should go back to running my own. There is also a disturbing chapter on how privacy protections put in place for children are easily circumvented, even by school districts.

I also liked the interview with Brian Kennish, who I worked with at Google. He was way out front of this privacy stuff, and he’s a cool guy. You should definitely download Disconnect right now. I use it on all my browsers.

One complaint that I have to make though: At one point in the book she compares being a privacy advocate with sit-ins at a lunch counter during the Civil Rights movement. No. I’m pretty sure they are different things. I’m uptight about all this privacy stuff too, but let’s not forget that when part of the solution involves getting an extra credit card and cell phone then it’s probably a first class problem.

I just remembered that I saw Ms. Angwin speak on this same topic at a Hadoop conference last September. Here are the notes I took on my iPhone as she spoke:

Julia Angwin/Pro Publica (ex-Wall Street Journal)
Surprisingly funny for a liberal
Privacy is a luxury good
Staples charges different prices based on your zip code
Capital One does this too (violation of law?)
Dragnet Nation (book)
Tried to go offline/not be tracked using following technology
- Disconnect (Kennish)
- Rise up (Seattle)
- Spider (online storate)
- creation of false identity / Ida Somebody, a journalist hero of hers
- put phone in faraday cage when not using it
Tried to eliminate data from data brokers
- 212 of them identified
- 92 allow opting out
- 13 allow seeing data
- 65 require an ID
- bad actors still have her data
Rough cost: $2,500 per year
Privacy is a luxury good
And still couldn’t get
- data out of brokers
- privacy from cell phone
- friends to use encryption
- assurance that the tools worked
"Concept formerly known as privacy”
There is no
- due process
- standards
- best practices
- assurances
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,991 followers
January 16, 2015
Paranoia and conspiracy theory! Possible spoilers: If the author was trying to sell me on her concerns, I am not buying. The majority of the book seemed to be about being angry because she could be profiled by Amazon or Google so that the pop-up ads could be tailored to her browsing habits. I am not a huge fan of pop-up ads, but to spend a lot of time and money to prevent all my activity from being tracked is not worth it - at least if I am tracked I might actually be interested in the ads that I see. Also, she attemps to raise concern about e-mail and text messages being tracked. Personally I don't care a whole lot because what I have to say in my e-mails and texts is not particularly interesting. Seems like she might have a lot of skeletons in the closet she wants to hide. At one point she even mentions that by trying to hide your digital trail, certain agencies may then feel the need to track you. It is common sense to me that if it looks like you are doing something suspicious, people will be suspicious of you . . .

Facepalm moment: Author turns of location tracking and and installs location blocking software on her cell phone but is annoyed about how long it takes to search for nearby restaurants because her phone does not know where she is. You just can't have your cake and eat it too!

So, I am not all that impressed and this book has not "opened my eyes"
Profile Image for Tim.
511 reviews22 followers
December 4, 2017
This was published in 2012, but I'm sure the situation that described here has not changed radically since then. In this book, journalist Julia Angwin describes her exhaustive attempts to protect herself from online surveillance (and other forms of digital snooping). She examines the many ways in which we are being watched and our actions recorded, and looks at a slew of options for combating the spies. Unfortunately the results are jumbled and a bit disheartening. A complex picture emerges of the existence of numerous forms of corporate and government surveillance, with no clear way to stop most of it. Disconnecting from the web is really the only way to not be tracked. She examines a range of ways to try to protect privacy, such as browser add-ons, Faraday bags, creating bogus identities, and virtual private networks, and finds that most of them have shortcomings. I think that today VPNs and the Tor network would be the major ones that people use, but perhaps these were not as important in 2012 because she does not spend a lot of time on them.

Angwin illustrates her views with stories of regular people who have run afoul of the current system and had their identities compromised or gotten into trouble with the law over petty situations and the like. For me the book had almost too much information about too many things, without enough in-depth examination, so there was not much that has stayed with me, other than the sense that if you really want to protect your privacy online, you will probably end up floundering around like Angwin did, and putting in a lot of time with only limited or temporary success.
Profile Image for Eric.
61 reviews8 followers
August 13, 2014
I received this book for free from the Goodreads First Reads program.

Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance presents a scary truth that many of us fail to grasp and don't effectively deal with: we are being watched in very intimate ways. This is larger than just the NSA revelations from Edward Snowden, Julia Angwin reveals, and includes nearly every interaction we have online, on the phone, and increasingly in the offline world. Angwin lists a few of the ways we are being hacked (in the negative sense of being manipulated):

- You can always be found
- You can be watched in your own home-or in the bathroom
- You can no longer keep a secret
- You can be impersonated
- You can be trapped in a hall of mirrors
- You can be financially manipulated
- You can be placed in a police lineup

And she provides examples of all these things happening now, with the caution that new and more egregious hacks will occur in the future.

Angwin provides interesting information about her attempts to circumvent the constant observation and data scraping while online. For example, she details using DuckDuckGo as an alternative search engine instead of Google. Though DuckDuckGo does not track user searches, it also does not provide all the extra "amenities" of Google - like recognizing your location and providing local results, or completing search words and phrases, or being a one-stop shop for online services. Angwin relates how she had to retrain her approach to web searches, recognizing that she relied on Google to do most of the work for her and, in turn, giving the company all of her information to do with as they please.

The book is an interesting read, though it definitely approaches the topic with a journalist's viewpoint. There are lots of sidetracks using personal stories related to the concepts Angwin covers. The book at times seems to meander and get too caught up in the details of the side stories, losing some of the narrative punch of surveillance problem.
Profile Image for Patricia.
631 reviews20 followers
March 2, 2015
Another book about privacy and security in our digital age. I appreciated this story of a year the author took to try and make her communications more secure. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of effort and one's digital trail is still vulnerable in many cases. I feel somewhat overwhelmed and a little scared by the possibilities for Big Brother becoming even more real down the road. I guess I'll go back to using DuckDuckGo for a search engine and I'll reconsider Linked In and other trails I leave on social media.
Profile Image for Kevin Gosztola.
25 reviews39 followers
June 9, 2014
How does a white privileged mother who is a national security journalist secure herself from surveillance by the government and Big Data companies?

This is her experience trying to protect her privacy and go back and delete data so she has no footprint. It's quite informative and engaging, though it should be recognized that maintaining all this privacy is easier because she is a white privileged person who won't be subject to the prejudices that turn the gears of the surveillance state.
258 reviews
Want to read
January 31, 2014
I won this book from the first reads giveaways and I am so excited to read it. Thanks.
Profile Image for Abdallah Moh.
361 reviews14 followers
July 10, 2017

تنقل الصحفية جوليا انغوين صورة عن إقتصاد الرقابة وجمع المعلومات عن مستخدمي شبكات التواصل الاجتماعي ومستخدمي الجوال وطريقة إستغلالها والتلاعب بها وتسخيرها من قبل الحكومات او الشركات الخاصة او حتى العصابات . توضح الكاتبة أن هذه التكنولوجيا هي الجرف الهاوي الذي تسافطنا فيه كلنا واصبحنا في قفص تحت المراقبة لجميع تحركاتنا وهواياتنا واطعمتنا وملابسنا المفضلة وعلاقاتنا الشخصية ومخاوفنا وجميع زوايا حياتنا وحتى حباة أجدادنا وذريتنا .

مثيرة نقاط مهمة حول الحقوق الشخصية للمستخدمين وحرمتها امام القانون . وهل القانون يحمي الحياة الخاصة بالمستخدم ؟


-        يبين الكتاب كيف لمواقع كبيرة مثل فيسبوك وغوغل تقدم خدماتها بالمجان !! فكيف تربح!!

-        تتعرف في هذا الكتاب على أطراف عملية بيع البيانات وكيف يتم يتم بيعك كمعلومة ةيتم تداولك مابين بائع ومشتري و وسيط

-        تكتشف ان هناك بورصة (مثل بورصة الاسهم) ولكنها بورصة بيع بيانات المستخدمين

-        نقلت لنا الكاتبة محاولاتها على مدى سنين ان لا تعطي فرصة لاي جهة ان يجمع معلومات عنها مع استعانتها بخبراء جمع المعلومات والبيانات لاتخاذ الاجراءات الاحتياطية اللازمة. فهل نجحت ؟؟


في نهاية الكتاب : أسأل نفسك : هل تملك الخيار انت العيش بدون ان يتعقبك أحد إلكترونيا  ؟
Profile Image for TAB.
296 reviews11 followers
December 13, 2022
I wish all investigative journalism could be this addicting. I will admit I am incredibly fascinated by the topic of privacy and personal data protection which led me to this book, but I genuinely think anyone who is living right now (as of the time of this review [wow, wouldn't it be crazy if people are still reading old GR reviews in 30 years?!?!]) can connect with this book. It covers every topic you can think of and my notes and quotes were extensive serving me to now constantly reinterpret how I look at the digital world. No I'm not going to change all the things Julia Angwin does and she doesn't even recommend that, but it's powerful just to go through the thought exercise of "why do I have this thing" or "does this service bring me joy" or "is this application worth providing my real data for?"

I'd say the only knock against it (and that's a 5 to 4.5 star knock) is that it's 8 years old and tech moves fast. But the underlying philosophy hasn't changed since the invention of the camera in the mid 19th century, so give it a shot (and change your password).
Profile Image for Kallie.
598 reviews2 followers
February 9, 2019
This is an interesting look at how much information about you is out in the world, and how you might go about trying to control it. It's a few years old, and as this topic goes, a lot can change in that time. I found it to still be very relevant.
The shout- out to librarians for being the only (?) profession to champion information freedom was bittersweet. I think the fact that most people just accept the loss of privacy as inevitable is a problem. Angwin compares information to the environment, saying we need an information protection agency, like we have the EPA. I don't think I'm on board with the analogy, though I can't pinpoint why. Freedom of information and environmental protection are two important things to me, but I think they are too different to compare.
Overall, a fascinating and informative book, and I'm reminded I like duck duck go.
52 reviews
September 21, 2017
Eye opening and scary. I wish the movement to hide our private information, eg from marketers, was stronger and had more traction. What world do we live in where we have to choose being socially engaged (facebook, nextdoor) but give up our privacy to do it. These are two of the more fundamental social drives we have - to maintain our privacy and to share our lives with others. We now do not get to choose the balance. It is an alienating and inhuman state to be in, and more than a billion people (FB, smartphone users) are living this compromise. Angwin understands that, but by now I think the practical information in this book may be getting a bit out of date. The advice in her book can also be found on her website: http://juliaangwin.com/privacy-tools/
Profile Image for Donna.
303 reviews
December 13, 2017
I recommend anyone concerned about internet privacy read this book! It is quite eye-opening about just how dominate & intrusive internet tracking and privacy invasion has become through the use computers & cell-phones and other electronic devices. It is pervasive by for profit sales, marketing, advertising AND governments, especially in the USA! While I appreciate that it may be an effort in futility, I've have double-checked and changed all my privacy setting to stop as much data tracking as I can. I've also created an alias identify for on-line shopping and websites I visit who want my personal information. I'll be more mindful about what I post, comment or like on Facebook in future!!!
3 reviews
April 9, 2016
For me this book was a rollercoaster of opinions that kept swinging between 'spot on' and 'what in the world are you talking about?!'

On one hand, often the examples used in the book made me a bit unsure on the author's stance on the issues she was covering. On one hand she was critiquing body scanners in the airports with great vehemence as 'the most intrusive of searches', yet at the end of the book she contemplates it as acceptable if those are used within reason and actually help us without singling out a certain group of people through prejudice.

In her view scanning is an assumption that everyone is a potential criminal by default. However, following the same logic metal detectors are doing the same. Little is mentioned about the increase in safety that these solutions offer. Ironically, the very concept of the body scanners ensures that nothing more than ones body contours are outlined and if standing facing the scanner, you are unlikely to even tell the sex of the person scanned.

Yet she still groups scanners with 'tracking' instruments, which is baffling. Scanner does not track you and the somewhat indiscriminate keeping of records generated by them is a separate issue. If the author is protesting against body scanners, she should consider the types of flight records are kept on her and others, that contain, among all else, everything that she said to the border officer upon her arrival to U.S. For one thing, a body scanner would have likely caught the shoe bomber that she uses as an example. But this is more about how a person views the solution in use. It doesn't decrease the quality of the book, at least because it offers an opinion that causes you to debate an issue in your head.

Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way is the parallel between the Stazi approach and the contemporary drag-net in U.S. While the concept of monitoring others is the same, the purpose is not so similar. Stazi tried to establish control, destroy subversive elements and dig up dirt on people to blackmail them into submission. While U.S. approach is still far from democratic, respective of ones right and effective, the purpose is to establish elements that will lead to damage being caused on a country's soil, not blackmail people, at least by its design and purpose. Misuses occurs everywhere.

Perhaps one more thing that i was slightly surprised is how she assumed that ability to be techn-savy equal to being a computer professional. As a matter of fact, installation of new software and keeping it up to date, installing security-centred plugins, or even writing down IMEI number of your phone is easier than ever. The process of using and maintaining PC has been simplified to an incredible level. This is less about not knowing how and more about not wanting to know how.

As you integrate new elements into your daily life, you will have to further develop your knowledge on how to use them. Facebook will force you to learn not just how to post updates, but also how to manage your settings. Microsoft office is updated on a yearly basis, introducing design changes and making you update your knowledge of which button or option is where. Same with cars, phones, online-banking and other things. Progress and education are inseparable and if you want to have more, you will have to give more by spending time and learning how to use a tool to its fullest potential.

The above point leads well to the discussion on passwords and unwillingness to put effort into creating more and complex ones. I liked that she thoughtfully considered multiple options on how to secure her online presence without learning all her passwords by heart. It can be unpleasant trade off (think of online password managers) that should be viewed as 'better than it was before'. But it also sums up well her discussion of various ways to blur her activities in cybersphere and real life, which sometimes bordered on mild obsession (tinfoil on the phone?). Often viewing every potential data funnel as necessarily information that can, and is likely to, be used against her. If we have learned anything from the multiple failures to catch criminals of all sorts, it is not as easy as it seems to put all that data to good use. New types of convenience will require new sacrifices. You will leak information because you want banking at your fingertips. You will be on the records of major retailers, because you enjoy the discounts you get. You will give as long as you get something back and some cases you will have no other choice but to give.

But i must give credit where credit is due. She did an excellent job at looking at the various facets of information leaks. The author not only gave good descriptions of the problems and the technological solutions for them, but went through an ordeal testing it herself and applying it in her daily life. it is an excellent introduction to those who might know little about what they have at their disposal to limit the information they are giving away every day, without even knowing it.

She also went into detail of how the human element of drag nets is more dangerous than the technology itself, with people abusing the information they have access to, sometimes for trivial personal reasons.

All in all it is a book i would recommend for anyone wanting to dive deeper into the topic of drag-nets and privacy. It will give a good intro to the various problems we are facing and what one could do about them, at least within the constraints imposed on us. However, the reader should stay critical of the problems presented in the book and the danger that they supposedly pose in our daily lives.
Profile Image for Timothy Deng.
35 reviews
January 18, 2019
I did enjoy this book and learned about quite a few new historical events that I think everyone ought to know about. I want so desperately to be convinced to try harder to protect my own privacy, but the way Angwin presents her threat models are not similar to the average reader’s (hers involve also protecting her journalistic sources’ identities). I’d still recommend this book for people to understand some of the violations of privacy governments and corporations have been involved with in recent years.
252 reviews3 followers
April 15, 2018
To much of her personal life and paranoia. Sure we give up privacy, but we get a lot for it as well. I thought this would be more journalistic instead of her personwl story about trying to get of the grid while still staying on.
I felt hetter about my past paranoia because it was not as extreme as hers.
Not much in here for the future, it was written in '14, and evrn by her admittance there is not much we can do to maintain our privacy.
12 reviews1 follower
April 26, 2020
The world we will live in contains hundreds of dragnets govt and private orgs using your data for preventing terrorism and better user ad targeting. Although there is some good behind the data tracking still it is your personal information I don't want some stranger to know that I like watching TV after finishing my work and take control of time. Julia went greater lengths to hide her identity using credit card with a fake name and burner mobile.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rachel.
394 reviews
January 11, 2018
I don't consider myself a paranoid person who's convinced the government is paying attention to everything I do online or on my phone. Dragnet Nation has changed that, at least temporarily. Julia Angwin's chronicle of her efforts to remove her personal data from online data brokers and prevent various government agencies from tracking her daily activities is incredibly interesting.
4 reviews1 follower
July 16, 2017
Good read

A balanced look at the imbalanced situation we currently find ourselves in in our information society as it related to unbridled access to personal data. She does a nice job raising awareness about a very important, timely issue.
Profile Image for Susan.
2 reviews
March 19, 2018
Good guide

Good synopsis of the challenges to maintaining any kind of privacy online. We give up entirely too much control to various services that then share our data. Just like this review. 😏
Profile Image for Harry.
97 reviews
December 5, 2018
A book that demonstrates the scary ways that individuals' private information is shared between companies and the government, but goes a little too in-depth to be a page-turner. Definitely looks to be a continuing reference source after reading.
Profile Image for Steph.
165 reviews4 followers
January 9, 2019
If you think you're sufficiently paranoid enough, this book will inform you otherwise. As much as it is relevant, the author veered into her personal territory and that's where it bogged down. But, it is well-written.
Profile Image for Madde Hoberg.
2 reviews1 follower
July 15, 2020
Dead names Chelsea Manning and misgenders her (book was published after she came out as a trans woman). Also never addresses how surveillance manifests racially and through Islamophobic practices despite ample opportunity to do so. Bummed at the missed opportunity more than anything.
Profile Image for Sarah Keller.
9 reviews
January 3, 2017
This book makes you think about just how much you are tracked and why you should care even if you have "nothing to hide".
168 reviews40 followers
August 8, 2018
This is the kind of book you read three times to catch everything.
Profile Image for Jenna.
93 reviews
October 7, 2018
This is a book full of important and interesting information, but it's written in a way that is at times confusing and at other times condescending. I wanted to like it way more than I did.
Profile Image for Anabelle Bernard Fournier.
93 reviews14 followers
February 17, 2015
If you're a newcomer to issues of privacy and security on the web, Julia Angwin's 2014 Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance is a good place to start. In accessible language and a relatable context, Angwin delves into the "dragnet nation", or how multiple entities are grabbing your data indiscriminately to be sold, used and analyzed.

I wasn't very surprised by anything that Angwin brings up in the book. From your Google search archive to your mobile location data, every bit of activity you do on the web or with your cell phone is likely recorded, stored in a database and may be used for commercial, governmental or covert operations.

To say this is scary would be an understatement. The sheer amount of things that Google knows about you is astounding, and if you want to know what data brokers and companies can discover about you, this is the place to begin. From your favourite takeout restaurant to your clothing size, from your health issues to your political leanings, it's easy to make quite an accurate profile of anyone through their Google data. Angwin demonstrates this by going through her own data and realizing how revealing it is.

Most of the book is dedicated to Angwin's quest for privacy in the dragnet nation. She looks for a private email client, a way to hide her location through mobile, and more. She describes the process of getting an alias (a famous early 20th-century journalist) for online shopping. She even gets a credit card in her alias' name!

As you can imagine, Angwin struggles with living a normal modern life and living privately. From sluggish private browsers (Tor) to unpractical Faraday pouches that cut all signals to and from your phone, it's difficult to answer to the demands of today's digital world and protect your privacy. The expectations of availability and the constant surveillance makes it very difficult to live "off the dragnet grid."

As you can imagine, Angwin is only partly successful at increasing her privacy online. She often finds that the cost of security is too high: it gets in the way of her life or in the way of her work, or somehow overcomplicates a task so much that it doesn't seem worth it to her.

The most interesting--and alarming--conclusion you can make from reading this book is that the convenience of modern technology comes at the cost of your privacy. There is hardly any way to avoid the dragnet, if only by making a purchase with a credit card or by placing a call with your cell phone. Tasks as ubiquitous as reading your favourite news outlet online, doing a Google search or walking into a store with your cell phone are now all part of the dragnet.

The dangers of the dragnet are also obviously scary: that your information can be retroactively used against you. Proponents of the dragnet argue that it has protected us against terrorism, but as Angwin argues, maybe it doesn't do it so well. What the dragnet does do well is build a profile of you for advertising purposes. What it is for is not so much protection against criminals (who would be careful to use privacy tools anyway, if they were smart) but for selling you stuff.

And I don't know about you, but I'm weary of any kind of big organization that knows too much about me, whether it is the government or corporations. I agree that the government should know enough about its citizen to build good policies, but should it be aware of everyone's every single movement, phone call, Google search? Should it know where you do your groceries, your favourite type of legal pornography or the latest pair of boots you bought online?

As I said earlier, convenience comes at a price. To increase privacy is to forego convenience. But is it too late to turn back? Are we now all so addicted to our phones, laptops, city-wide wi-fi and Google that we've all just thrown our hands up and given up?

Is everything that makes our life easier necessarily a good thing, or should we begin questioning the consequences of blindly accepting and integrating ever more invasive technology in our lives?

Dragnet Nation, although admittedly basic for those who are already aware of these issues, is a good place to start your inquiry.
Profile Image for Kyra.
56 reviews13 followers
May 3, 2021
I read this book for a college class... and it was sooo cringe. The author was so annoying to me and maybe it's our age difference. Many of the things they were saying made me go "duh".
Profile Image for Rob Kitchin.
Author 47 books94 followers
October 1, 2015
The subtitle for Dragnet Nation is ‘A quest for privacy, security, and freedom in a world of relentless surveillance,’ which neatly sums up the book’s focus. In short, Julia Angwin charts: (a) how web- and mobile-based communication has become an intersecting set of data dragnets in the United States (and elsewhere), with state agencies and companies using a variety of practices (such as using cookies, data trackers, wifi and MAC address sniffing, spyware) to track and trace the use of phones, apps, websites and online transactions and purchases; (b) her attempts to reclaim her privacy and to evade mass surveillance, and to improve her data security, using a range of different tactics, including cloaking, blocking, obfuscation, encryption, requests for copies of her data and deletion from databases, and changing which services she used. Her analysis draws from of two main sources: her journalism with the Wall Street Journal and interviews with key witnesses, as well as desk-based research of literature; and her own attempts to install various bits of software and to change her online and communications behaviour.

While one of the back cover endorsements claims the book is an ‘antidote to Big Brother’s big chill’, I experienced the opposite. It is an engaging and informative read, but an also somewhat depressing, revealing the US state to be entirely paranoid about its own citizens, routinely spying on them as if they are all criminal suspects (often in secret and without legal recourse; as the Snowden and Wikileaks revelations have also highlighted), and corporations have little respect for their customers treating them as simply another commodity to be monetized and sold, with just about all of their online behaviour, however mundane, being harvested, traded, and consolidated to create new derived data products, and used to nudge them towards purchases (with such actions authorized in the small print of complex legal documents that detail terms and conditions, or not at all as in the case of many apps). In both cases, privacy has disappeared almost entirely, despite claims to the data being anonymized (it is incredibly easy to de-identify the data given the overlapping metadata). And Angwin’s analysis only concerned the internet and mobile phones; once one considers the plethora of smart home and smart city technologies, from mass digital CCTV, automated systems, to the internet of things, then the loss of privacy multiplies.

Ultimately, Angwin concludes that there is a need to find a middle way between ‘those who ask us to hand over all our data and “get over it,” and those who suggest that we throw our body on the tracks in from the speeding train that is our data economy ... We didn’t shut down the industrial economy to stop pollution. We simply asked the polluters to be more accountable for their actions’ (p. 223-224). Finding and implementing that middle way, however, given the vested interested involved will not be easy or straightforward. Overall, an interesting read that highlights the extent of the present dragnet and the difficulty of avoiding it, but a little thin on how the data captured is being used and alternative privacy visions (which might have been gained by examining privacy, technology and legal debates). Certainly worth a read if you want to increase your paranoia about how data about you is generated and traded.
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