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

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  532 ratings  ·  49 reviews
In New York and Baltimore, police cameras scan public areas twenty-four hours a day. Huge commercial databases track your 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 Bri
Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 7th 1999 by Basic Books (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Richard Derus
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Zarathustra Goertzel
Jul 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Earth Humans
The Transparent Society has been on my lists for years.

The cameras are coming. The choice we have to make is whether we will live in a society of reciprocal accountability or top-down surveillance.

Brin explores many fun nuances involved in this choice, including questioning whether there may be other possibilities available.

One core point is that 'privacy' can be reframed as the right to be left alone (rather than the right to secrecy and be hidden from the light).

This book appears fairly pres
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
Aaron Slack
Mar 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mark Oppenlander
In a society where technology has made it possible to track nearly every action of nearly every citizen, is there any place left for privacy? Or is privacy a myth? And are there things more important than privacy? Noted science fiction author, futurist and scientist David Brin tackled these questions in this 1998 book. Some recent reviewers have commented on the fact that Brin's ideas and argument have been outpaced by changes in technology and news headlines (e.g. Edward Snowden) over the past ...more
Chris Branch
I’ve only read one of Brin’s SF books, but I was drawn to this one because its thesis makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve often thought that secrecy is too close to deception for comfort, and that in order to promote truthfulness, the goal should be a world of complete openness. It may have an air of utopia about it, but then, why not aim for utopia, and if we fall short, we still end up with a better society than we otherwise would have.

Brin is familiar with the ideas of the extreme privacy advoc
Jan 01, 2009 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
Sep 25, 2010 rated it liked it
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
David Hill
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Good thought provoking ideas. Easy to read.
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this back in 1999 when it first came out, read it, and attended one of David's lectures on the book tour for this, and laughed uproariously (because he's a very funny man, and a witty/ironic/contrarian speaker). Since then, I've reread it multiple times, cited it in my own publications, and recommended it to others to read at least a thousand times. I consider this to be one of the most important books of the past 50 years to examine our society and culture, the quirky dynamics that are ...more
Dan Trefethen
Aug 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't read this when it came out in 1998, but found it in a used bookstore and thought I'd see how the concerns of the early Internet period matched up with today's issues.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mass surveillance and encryption were major themes in this book. Brin argues for great transparency to allow accountability, for all of society. He correctly predicted that if a major terrorist incident occurred, the country would give up some freedoms for the promise of g
Doug Farren
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's dated--20 years dated as a matter of fact. But, this book is a prophetic read of how a brilliant writer has correctly predicted the future of how technology can be used. Mr. Brin's extensive vocabulary and unique writing style makes this book a difficult read at times but well worth the effort. If you skim through a paragraph and realize you haven't a clue as to what was just discussed, go back and read it again-slower. Mr. Brin does not attempt to force a single view on the reader. The boo ...more
Peter Tillman
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-tech
Well thought out & well-written. Nice!
Kate Baucherel
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Visionary, and incredibly relevant as encryption begins to fail and we have to turn back to trust and transparency.
Andrew Clough
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book changed the way I thought about privacy a lot and was generally pretty interesting throughout.
Matthew Aujla
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
David Brin’s The Transparent Society lays out the hypothesis that freedom can only be ensured through accountability, derived from openness and criticism, of those in power (i.e., governments, MNCs, “management,” etc…). As we enter the information age, new technologies provide increasingly powerful tools for openness. Despite our desire to selectively endorse, to ensure accountability, and constrain, in light of privacy concerns, these tools through regulation or censorship of information, inevi ...more
Oct 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
May 18, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Dave Peticolas
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it

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

Apr 11, 2010 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Ben Stack
Dec 03, 2016 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
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 27, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Apr 14, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"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. ...more
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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

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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?” 3 likes
“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” 1 likes
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