New Book on Data and Power

I’m writing a new book, with the tentative title of Data and Power.

While it’s obvious that the proliferation of data affects power, it’s less clear how it does so. Corporations are collecting vast dossiers on our activities on- and off-line—initially to personalize marketing efforts, but increasingly to control their customer relationships. Governments are using surveillance, censorship, and propaganda—both to protect us from harm and to protect their own power. Distributed groups—socially motivated hackers, political dissidents, criminals, communities of interest—are using the Internet to both organize and effect change. And we as individuals are becoming both more powerful and less powerful. We can’t evade surveillance, but we can post videos of police atrocities online, bypassing censors and informing the world. How long we’ll still have those capabilities is unclear.

Understanding these trends involves understanding data. Data is generated by all computing processes. Most of it used to be thrown away, but declines in the prices of both storage and processing mean that more and more of it is now saved and used. Who saves the data, and how they use it, is a matter of extreme consequence, and will continue to be for the coming decades.

Data and Power examines these trends and more. The book looks at the proliferation and accessibility of data, and how it has enabled constant surveillance of our entire society. It examines how governments and corporations use that surveillance data, as well as how they control data for censorship and propaganda. The book then explores how data has empowered individuals and less-traditional power blocs, and how the interplay among all of these types of power will evolve in the future. It discusses technical controls on power, and the limitations of those controls. And finally, the book describes solutions to balance power in the future—both general principles for society as a whole, and specific near-term changes in technology, business, laws, and social norms.

There’s a fundamental trade-off we need to make as society. Our data is enormously valuable in aggregate, yet it’s incredibly personal. The powerful will continue to demand aggregate data, yet we have to protect its intimate details. Balancing those two conflicting values is difficult, whether it’s medical data, location data, Internet search data, or telephone metadata. But balancing them is what society needs to do, and is almost certainly the fundamental issue of the Information Age.

As I said, Data and Power is just a tentative title. Suggestions for a better one—either a title or a subtitle—are appreciated. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Data and Power: The Political Science of Information Security
  • The Feudal Internet: How Data Affects Power and How Power Affects Data
  • Our Data Shadow: The Battles for Power in the Information Society
  • Data.Power: The Political Science of Information Security
  • Data and Power in the Information Age
  • Data and Goliath: The Balance of Power in the Information Age
  • The Power of Data: How the Information Society Upsets Power Balances

My plan is to finish the manuscript by the end of October, for publication in February 2015. Norton will be the publisher. I’ll post a table of contents in a couple of months. And, as with my previous books, I will be asking for volunteers to read and comment on a draft version.

If you notice I’m not posting as many blog entries, or writing as many essays, this is what I’m doing instead.

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 12:19 PM94 Comments


Benni March 21, 2014 12:35 PM

I personally think it would be better you would work on a new algorithm or new tech to prevent nsa snooping.

kashmarek March 21, 2014 12:45 PM

Data & Corruption…

It seems clear, that under the guise of “improving your Internet experience”, big business is sleuthing data about your for their purposes of their “beneath the table” hidden agenda. This is essentially corruption for their benefit.

On the other hand, the spy agencies are sleuthing data for their own hidden agenda, which is for influence, intimidation, and control. They are doing it not because it is legal to do so but because they can get away with it, which in anybody’s book is corruption.

Data corrupts & absolute control of the data corrupts absolutely.

So, data & corruption it is.

Geoffrey Kidd March 21, 2014 12:56 PM

Data, Information, Knowledge, Power

Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Power

and you can add Lord Acton’s observation behind #4

paul March 21, 2014 1:13 PM

This seems to me once place where “rules, not tools” pretty much has to be the norm. De-anonymization of aggregate data only gets easier the more kinds of data there are and the more cycles there are to throw at the problem.

Of course, the people enforcing the rules will need tools to help them do so.

(Universal Data Corrupts Universally?)

Coyne Tibbets March 21, 2014 1:35 PM

“Data is generated by all computing processes.”

This statement is too minimal. It would be better to say, “Data is generated by all activities.” While it used to be impractical to capture the data from non-computerized activities, today the computer can be hooked to anything.

Take, for example, leaving your house. Whether you were going to the mailbox, to your car, or going jogging, there’s not really a computer involved in the activity. But the video camera on the pole across the street can now be hooked to a computer, which can do facial recognition on you and anyone with you, identify the activity you’re performing and carefully store away your name, date and time of entry/exit, activity, companions, keep track of who is currently in/out of the house and likely even identify what you might be carrying: All for later use. Probably with time-indexed video.

So even mundane, non-computerized activities have now become sources of data.

Tom March 21, 2014 1:40 PM

“Knowledge is power” is an old maxim.

No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution. -Niccolo Machiavelli-

If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril. -Sun Tzu-

RSaunders March 21, 2014 2:56 PM

While I appreciate the “knowledge is power” maxim, I hope your book can treat the topic in a balanced way.

Corporations keep all sorts of data because the vendors that sold them CRM solutions promised that their companies would reap great benefits. The vendors that sold them data mining tools promised that they would know their customers better than their spouses. When companies say that having all this data will allow them to tailor ads to maximize their revenue, I think they actually believe that.

It’s all bunk. Or, to quote George Carlin “It’s all bu#%$#@#, folks and it’s bad for ya.”

Amazon knows every book I read and half the TV I watch and it’s recommendations are no better than random. Maybe they are better than SPAM, because they don’t seem so fixated on Nigerian Princes, but we’re talking marginal improvement.

Even the NSA’s omnipresent, if not omnipotent, hoovering of the Internet has not ended Internet evil-doing. With every phone record in the US, unsolicited telemarketers still manage to call during supper. As far as I can tell, this “data = power” stuff doesn’t work, even with an infinite amount of money.

Maybe your equation should be “data ^ 0.001 = power”. The effect is non-zero, and positively correlated, but we’re looking at a low power law relationship. To get 10% more power you seem to require 100X more data.

I’m not saying it’s not possible to do things to people when you have enough data about them, but it seems very hard and very, very expensive. Whenever the NSA’s TAO folks sound scary, I’m reminded of the old XKCD comic on Security ( ).

A Leap at the Wheel March 21, 2014 3:40 PM

” And we as individuals are becoming both more powerful and less powerful.”

I hope you get into this, clarifying that we are more powerful in absolute terms, and less powerful in relative terms. It reminds me of a similar situation in economics.

If I have stuff valued at $10, and you have stuff valued at $10, maybe we can make a trade where my final value is $11 and yours is $1Billion. Under Pareto analysis, we are both better off. But a Marxist would look at that and say its exploititive.

Carpe March 21, 2014 3:41 PM

It’s not just about data though, we have to look at the bigger picture or we will never make any progress. From a HN post I made:

“The issue of foreseeable consequences is one of the main points I have a problem with. The public was sold war and surveillance to “protect” them, but lets face the realpolitik, it was about “National Interests” and not “National Security”, which the totalitarian oligarchy like to conflate as the same. They aren’t, but even if they were, they had to have had at least a few analysts in a dark room somewhere who figured this out and sent some reports up the chain. (of course they probably got fired or sent to the mail room…) They knew this was a possibility, that by turning on and growing the surveillance state and trying to kill privacy that it would increase the possibility that the programs would become public, and therefore undermine American credibility as a safe haven.

I would present to you that, while they will claim they were unaware of this potential, the reality is that they knew it, and accepted it, because what has been happening is a power play in a currently fairly quiet but still major shift in global power.

I’ve argued with my intel friends that they are off chasing bad guys OCONUS when the real bad guys are in DC, NY, and London, but now those same entities have a stranglehold on the intel agencies themselves (I mean, they always did, the original CIA guys were all Wall Street old boys in the first place, but now it’s much worse in my opinion.)

Do we really think Hayden is the brain behind these moves? Or Hanlon’s razor? No. The surveillance issue is a symptom of a much larger issue at hand, and until we take the discourse to that level there will be very little progress made. All three branches and the fourth estate are corrupted, which undermines our entire already weakened constitutional framework.

Now, the realpolitik they don’t discuss with the public is that in the new globalized world of supranational entities the concept of national sovereignty is a lost cause.

My problem is that they made the decision to adopt this constitution undermining policy without even having a public debate about it.

The oligarchy have said, in essence: “The proletariat serfs are too dumb (from all the propaganda) to make informed decisions about their democracy, therefore, we shall placate them with gladiatorial political shows while we pull the strings from the shadows.””

jones March 21, 2014 4:02 PM

Mr. Schneier,

I would hope you start with a definition of power. Sociologist C. Wright Mills was very good about defining his terms, and understood power to be the ability to make and enact plans regardless of opposition.

It is worth noting that under this definition (and Mills’s own analysis in his 1956 study, The Power Elite), Congress today does not truly represent “the halls of power.” Individual members of Congress don’t write the bills they propose (corporate lawyers and lobbyists do) and they don’t read them either (staffers do). Individual members of Congress today are more like “levers of power” or “puppet-strings” than “real players.” To Mills, this state of affairs marks a real shift from the 19th Century, and is part of the rise of the managerial society, where executives hold the real power (because they actually control all the means of production, regardless of who owns it, and therefore get to decide who gets how much of whatever there is to have).

So, to speak of data and power, I would hope you take a broad-picture view of things, and ask: the power to do what? Which is really to ask, what is being planned with big data?

vas pup March 21, 2014 4:13 PM

For title:
Data and Redistribution of Power in the Information Age: from ‘1984’ to 2014.

Anura March 21, 2014 4:36 PM


I disagree with you on the idea that targeted advertising is not more effective; being able to properly identify purchasing trends, geographic location, age, etc. can make a huge difference in sales. I mean, it’s not going to be the difference between no sales and billions in sales, but in terms of the effectiveness of the campaign itself it can be huge.

Where it gets scary is when you start applying this to politics. Propaganda spreads through both direct targeting and the networking effect, and when you want to manipulate someone the better you can target them the more easily you can get them to come to your side.

Let’s say you want to get the extremists riled up to post comments on news articles and the like, well you want to focus on your extremists. There are two things you want to measure: where the extremists get their information, and how well the data resonates with them. A good way to do this is by testing talking points on various sites and then watching for these talking points reposted elsewhere to determine how well your puppets respond. The other thing you want to do is counter arguments, so seeing what your opponents are saying, looking for their talking points allows you to more effecitvely counter their puppets.

Along the same lines, you want to make sure that what you send to moderate supporters and centrists is less extreme; spewing vitriol might have your extremists licking it up at your feet, but it might result in moderates being turned away. Based on geographic location, news network, website, etc. you want to tune your propaganda to sound more reasonable or more hateful. Let the parrots spread it around, as repetition is almost as good as facts, but you do need to slowly whittle away the defenses of your opposition.

The other thing that could be useful is controlling information; figure out what types of news makes people more sympathetic to your cause, and what kind of news makes them more likely to oppose you, and then limit information exposure to make people more likely to support you. Imagine if a site like google news allowed political groups to buy news filters for people depending on their demographics; you could exert a great amount of changing opinion.

Now, you are not going to completely change public opinion overnight, but when you have a horrible electoral system like the US has, and 1% of the vote can be the difference between winning and losing an election, it doesn’t take much of a change in voter turnout or in the swing of the voters to make a huge difference in power.

Nick P March 21, 2014 5:45 PM

This Book: Bruce Schneier Wrote It, So Friggin Buy It Already

Kidding aside, I think KnottWhittingly’s suggestion is nice: “Data and Power: They’re Taking Yours.” Only problem is it comes off as alarmist in the way media does. Not really your style.

Winter March 21, 2014 5:47 PM

I think a parallel between data waste and toxic waste is appropriate. Bruce has brought that up earlier.

1984 March 21, 2014 5:54 PM

jones • March 21, 2014 4:02 PM. Mr. Schneier, I would hope you start with a definition of power. “

“The Party seeks power for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power….The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”
. . .
“The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body — but, above all, over the mind.
. . .
“How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?”

Winston thought. “By making him suffer,” he said.

“Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own. Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation….If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
. . .
“The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant; the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism.”

Hungry Today March 21, 2014 6:40 PM

It is also where data is turned into usable information that the problem may sometimes lie…

382463 –> Data
38-24-36 –> Information

Curious March 21, 2014 6:57 PM

Fear and loathing and the internet

  • Sort of similar to the movie title “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas”
  • I haven’t seen this movie btw.

Buck March 21, 2014 7:45 PM


Find a way to watch “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”… I guarantee that you won’t regret it!

The lack of ‘claims of objectivity’ places Gonzo Journalism in a completely different paradigm than today’s ‘mainstream journalism’…

It’s not really a dying art though… Any contemporary writer worth their salt knows that they are not simply passive observers; but are actually drivers of the discussions.
How they choose to exercise that knowledge however, is totally up to their own morals and those of their benefactors!

Go 'Git 'Em March 22, 2014 1:44 AM

Great venture. Have fun with it and remember to hug your wife and pet your cat, errr, squid

Daniel March 22, 2014 2:19 AM

I’m not sure that the terminology matters so much as that it becomes quickly early on in the book how you perceive the difference, if any, between “data” and “information.” Is data a subset of information? Information something derived from data? Or do you perceive the two terms as the same? I bring this up because there is already a wealth of books written on propaganda, power, and information. Understanding what you mean by data will help people understand how it fits into existing academic studies, even if your primary audience is not academic.

Feudal March 22, 2014 7:36 AM

I have always liked your comparison of modern Internet usage to feudal times. It’s more distinctive and far less generic than the various proposals with “power” and “data” in the title (there are zillions of books with those widely used words in their titles), and the feudal comparison seems good and insightful.

So I support “The Feudal Internet” or some variation on that idea.

Curious March 22, 2014 8:57 AM

I suspect Bruce is going for a more neutral sounding title, and so I can’t contribute much there I think. 😀

World! where is my modular OS with everything easily understood, secure and managable? I like computers less and less with age. And where is “my” A4 sized, thin and lightweight ebook tablet with buttons that doesn’t sound like a child’s toy? 🙂

I do want to point out that I think any use of the word “balance” and “power” can easily be confusing to a reader if an understanding of what is meant by such isn’t explained to the reader very early on, probably about certain problems or ideas being discussed, because as a literal point of argument by itself, I think such really work as conceptual metaphors that might merely might imply meaning rather than actually explaining something in particular. There is probably also a risk of the reader finding the ambiguity of any one word displeasing, if an author ends up implying things and/or statements having more than one meaning to it rather than elaborating on it and sticking to one point so to speak (being forthright). A sober use of common languange is probably wise I think, to avoid generalizing too much, to avoid being too insistent, but also to avoid any temptation to start every sentence with “I think that..”. or “I believe that..”. 🙂

I personally don’t like the word ‘balance’ in a lot of contexts, because that word, in my experience, is often used for a poor explanation in either making an argument about something or for excusing oneself. I see this word being used about what can be called “computer game design” alot and I tend to dislike it being used there without a sensible set of arguments. I can readily understand the literal meaning if what is talked about is an act of achieving or maybe not having achieved an equilibrium of two weights on a weight scale, and if the mere proportionality of the size of two visual shapes/forms is observed or thought to somehow relate to each other in some interesting way (aesthetically). And so I guess I can say that “balancing” two or more “values” probably makes better sense in a certain context that is more or less self explanatory, but much less so where there ends up being no focus that could explain (preferably) ones own sentiment for understanding a so called ‘value’ in particular.

“As society” is a phrase I tend to view with suspicioun when I see it, because I think it sometimes becomes unclear whether it is a reference to maybe some genereal idea (maybe just a conceptual metaphor with the reader wanting/having to fill in the blanks), or as a part of an argument for something in particular, maybe as some kind of rhetorical ploy.

Having said this, I think any author is ofc free to try evoke certain sentiments or make things more interesting as he/she wish’es, maybe being very specific in one instance while being intentionally vague in an other, with whatever writing styles there are. I am no professional writer so I think it is safe to say I would be out of my league I in discussing all kinds of tropes in literature. 🙂 But hey, I like to think I have learned a thing or two, so I wanted to scribble down some of my opinions here.

I think Bruce tend to make very good sense when he writes (I am thinking of his blog), but I must confess I sometimes on occasion have a distaste to certain phrases and words. 🙂

moz March 22, 2014 9:52 AM


Can you suggest what algorithm we are missing that would prevent the NSA snooping? I’m sure there’s something but it’s not obvious to me and it’s pretty obvious that they mainly attack in places where the algorithm is fine but the implementation is weak. In that case the best thing to do is persuade people that it is worth fixing their implementations.

B. D. Johnson March 22, 2014 10:53 AM

Latin may be a bit obscure for a book title or subtitle, but how about ex datum potentia* as a sort-of snowclone ofscientia potentia est. Bonus points because “datum” specifically means something given to point out that a good chunk of the data we’re concerned about various organizations having is data we provided in the first place.

*My grammar may be off. Latin was a long time ago.

chris l March 22, 2014 12:32 PM

@moz: One of the big things that’s missing is easy, reliable, and well integrated client-side encryption on email. Some of the big “cloud” email providers (e.g. Google) are finally starting to use SSL for all connections, in addition to encrypting data when they move it between centers and when it’s parked. But SSL is very susceptible to MIM attacks, and if most providers are still not encrypting from the client to the server, then it all still gets transmitted in the clear at some part(s) of the transmission. The encryption algorithms don’t have to be perfect– just good enough that the cost of slurping and decrypting everything is high.

What the NSA calls “metadata” is trickier, because it needs to be read in order to route things properly – it’s possible to make it much harder to grab, but would take some major changes across the internet.

N.E.Baughman March 22, 2014 12:48 PM

Secrets No More: How Data {Shifts|Dictates} the Balance of Power in the Information {Society|Age}

The Data Society: Balance of Power in the Information Age

The Power of Data in the Information Age

Data Race: Securing Power through Information

Ildup March 22, 2014 4:21 PM

Thats good. Although we are are not there yet. At the moment data is mostly in silos and in contained proprty systems. Although all are almost fully connected noone is capable of analyzing real time global sensor and user data. Today. Mostly because the change from ipv4 to ipv6 missed the target. There is still a need of a new internet protocol which will address security as well as flexible enough to run on a very small hardware. Once this is done the internet of everything might will come true. Key players project this will happen within few years. Insurance companies (technically) would be able to monitor your health and activities/risks real time and adjust your policies. Once this become reality i guess we need to rethink how we handle the massive streams of data and how we protect. Will the zone based, “firewall” protected mostly star topology communication shift to a massive see of individuals, this noone can foresee at the moment, yet this revolution will force us to rethink data and internet security in its core. I am looking forward the predictions on the social implication of all these. Who is going to have more power: the one who has access to the data or the one with access to the moving data?

John Stoner March 22, 2014 6:01 PM

‘Big Data: the Sword With a Thousand Edges.’

I’ve been thinking about this issue too–balancing power in the presence of big data. It’s a hard problem, and I have no insight into how to resolve it. Best of luck.

Petter March 22, 2014 6:26 PM

‘Info Ownage’ – ‘Complete Data’ is the key to everything.

Massive amount, the complete history and accurate to it’s full extent – gives an option to a complete picture of the theatre.

Big Data is soo old school.
Business Warehousing is already dead.

Information Supremacy is what is driving entities of tomorrow.

FluffytheObeseCat March 22, 2014 9:02 PM

1) Your choice of title: “Data and Power” is better than anything others have offered here. It’s simple, all-encompassing and to the point.

2) It will be easy to overreach when the topic is this broad and compelling — even for a skilled, very practiced writer and public thinker. What you choose to have in the text will probably need to be “smaller” than the title for most of us to digest it. I gave up on multi-hundred page epic trilogies after LOTR, and I’m far from unique unfortunately.

Are you aiming to write “the” book on this issue — to produce a definitive reference tome as you have famously in your specific discipline? Do you want to craft something that is readable enough to guide public thought wrt the 2-3 most critical dangers of blanket surveillance?

Where do you intend it to be on the spectrum between textbook and polemic?

Bruce Schneier March 23, 2014 3:52 AM

“Are you aiming to write ‘the’ book on this issue — to produce a definitive reference tome as you have famously in your specific discipline?”

Definitely not. Aside from Applied Cryptography, I don’t do reference tomes.

“Do you want to craft something that is readable enough to guide public thought wrt the 2-3 most critical dangers of blanket surveillance?”

I try to write readable general-public books, but it would be about more than the 2-3 most critical dangers. I hope to cover the whole space.

“Where do you intend it to be on the spectrum between textbook and polemic?”

Far away from that spectrum. I am hoping for neither.

Bruce Schneier March 23, 2014 3:53 AM

“I’ve been thinking about this issue too–balancing power in the presence of big data. It’s a hard problem, and I have no insight into how to resolve it. Best of luck.”

Thanks. I have no illusions that I can solve the problem. I hope to be able to talk about how to find solutions in different cases.

Bruce Schneier March 23, 2014 3:55 AM

“I would hope you start with a definition of power. Sociologist C. Wright Mills was very good about defining his terms, and understood power to be the ability to make and enact plans regardless of opposition.”

I will have a definition, but I will probably finesse the exacting details. I have to see how much precision matters here.

Bruce Schneier March 23, 2014 3:57 AM

“I’m not sure that the terminology matters so much as that it becomes quickly early on in the book how you perceive the difference, if any, between ‘data’ and ‘information.’ Is data a subset of information? Information something derived from data? Or do you perceive the two terms as the same? I bring this up because there is already a wealth of books written on propaganda, power, and information.”

I’m interested in titles of those previously written books.

moz March 23, 2014 6:26 AM

@Bruce Schneier

Specifically about power and surveillance and obscure enough you may not have seen it (though I suppose we should be listing everything?):

“CTRL [SPACE]” Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother / ZKM | Karlsruhe ; 2002

Mostly artistic, but includes essays about the Panopticon and one from Duncan Campbell about Echelon. Very interesting to compare with the mock shock we are getting from some quarters about people (looking at you Angela) about being spied on.

It seems to me that PGP and GPG which are integrated into many client side email clients are algorithmically fine. The problem is that nobody uses them because it’s more convenient to be able to search your Gmail. In that case, writing a book about the power people have over you through access to your data seems more valuable to me than inventing a new crypto algorithm for people to ignore.

Clive Robinson March 23, 2014 9:51 AM

@ Bruce,

With regards a title you are stuck with the issue of being ambiguous to inspire interest not rejection in as wide a prospective audience as possible thus something like,

    Data and the Journey to Power : from micro information to macro control

Or similar.

The most interesting paragraph you have writen above is,

    Understanding these trends involves understanding data. Data is generated by all computing processes. Most of it used to be thrown away, but declines in the prices of both storage and processing mean that more and more of it is now saved and used. Who saves the data, and how they use it, is a matter of extreme consequence, and will continue to be for the coming decades.

You have a number of points there which are quite capable of filling books on their own depending on what level you chose to goto.

For instance there are various semantic linkages between information, data and knowledge that can vary wildly depending on who’s view you take [1]. Thus coming up with a consistent view might become an issue.

As Coyne Tibbets has pointed out all activities have information associated with them. The problem is converting this information to knowledge that is then usable to provide leaverage on other activities which in essence is what you mean by power.

As a 20,000ft overview there are four basic stages,

Activity gives information, the collection of which gives data, which when analysed gives knowledge which when used as leverage gives control or power.

From this it can be seen that there is a basic series of work flows,

1, Activity as a cause.
2, Which produces one or more Effects.
3, Observation of effects.
4, Communications of the observations.
5, Storage of observations.
6, Processing of stored observations.
7, Deriving knowledge from the processing.
8, Storage of the derived knowledge.
9, Processing derived knowledge to assess utility.

At this point considerable cost has been expended on collection and analysis but no use has been made of the knowledge to gain leaverage on other activities.

However there is an immediatly obvious problem step 3 “observation of effects” will as I’ve indicated in the past be imperfect. That is of any activity there will be atleast N+1 realities where N is the number of observers each with their unique perspective of the events caused by the actitiy.

But there are less obvious problems with observation of the effects. The most obvious of which is the distance in space and time of the observer from the events caused by the activity. The greater these distances the less use the observation of the effects is, and the greater the subjectivity of the observation [2]. Whilst it is not possible to stop the effects being generated by the activity the distance can be used to good effect to manipulate the subjectivity of the observer thus poluting the information source.

However there is another effect in that as the distance decreases the more effect the observation will have on the activity [3]. Both hard and soft sciences are to some extent aware of these issues but usually they get ignored when not used in a scientificaly acceptable methodology. Ignoring this for whatever reason usually leads at best to usless data and false reasoning, at worst there is little constraint on the harms it can cause.

But to make this worse are the issues of communications (4) and storage (5) of the observations, both suffer from limitations of “bandwidth” that is they can only transport or store a finite amount of information as observed data in a given period of time. This generaly means that information is not only lost as part of the observation and quantatization process into data it is further lost due to the constraints of communication and storage no matter how efficient or inexpensive they become.

Which means that the processing of the data into knowledge (7) is at best an uncertain process, and reliance on it should be treated with considerable caution.

Whilst statistical methods can be used to improve the quality of the data it is very easy to use them incorrectly or not understand the limitations of the results especialy when the data is derived not from information from simple physical near determanistic processes but complex processes with hidden drivers or non determanistic processes.

Whilst the usual scientific method calls for verification of knowledge by experimentation this is generaly not possible in practice with most information sources.

Thus it can be seen that data stores can be easily populated with inacurate or false information.

Which is just one of a myriad of problems for each step in the process that could each fill a whole collection of books in their own right.

Thus I can see filling two hundred and fifty pages is not going to be a problem, the problem is which problems to cover and in what depth, and that is going to be dictated by the slant you want to put on the book.

It’s not clear from what you have sofar said what slant of the many available you want to take, my view would be to pick the slant from the “power” end not the “activity” end and work down not up with a few choice drill down examples. Hopefully you will make your choice early on and thus save time and effort.

[1] I’ve indicated this in the past and I currently hold the view that information is intangible and becomes data when imperfectly quantatised and impressed on tangible elements for storage and communication. As such knowledge is due to the processing of the quantitised data in some manner. One question that arises is “Can knowledge exist without information being stored, communicated or processd as data in a tangible form?” Currently the answer appears to be no from our physical universe perspective, thus knowledge is constrained by the current laws of physics and would thus be finite in it’s totality in our universe. The implication of this is that as knowledge is created within our universe at some point it is also destroyed, which is a problem.

[2] Whilst most people intuativly know the limitations of observations made in space at a large locality difference between actor ans observor, most do not realise that distance in time is actually more problematical. Often you will hear of primary / direct / first-hand observation and secondary / indirect observation. As imperfect humans we reconise the differences in various fields of endevour and use wooly reasoning to set arbitary standards. Thus in law we have “hearsay” which used not to be treated as evidence, but by the addition of “expert opinion” can now be regarded as evidence. However in science the principle of times arrow says it’s dangerous to do this. Because you are arguing –from imperfect observation of some but not all effects that in of themselves age– backwards to a cause and in the process you are in danger of inventing details and constraints which may not be real or relevant. Which is why as a general case “theory” has to be proved by carefull and controled experiment that is reproducable by any interested party. The problem is not only is measurment imprecise it also destroys part or all of the effect being measured [3]

[3] Whilst not immediatly intuative it is now recognised that the measurment of an effect changes the effect to some degree. That is the process of measurment is an activity with it’s own attendant effects that act on the effect being measured. Generaly the smaller the effect being measured and the more tightly coupled the measurment process the more the measurand is changed by the process, and thus at some point the two effects become equal in magnitude and thus a single measurment result is no better than the random toss of a coin. Likewise all systems have noise in some form or another and this also effects measurments as the magnitude of the noise aproaches or exceads the level of the measurand. Thus there are limits to what we can know about a single event beyond which we are at best guessing.

Dan Gifford March 23, 2014 4:07 PM

Maybe something along the lines of “Data and Power: Dynamics of Future Societies”.

jcase March 23, 2014 4:08 PM

Reminds me of the very good book by Elias Canetti, who’s observations were titled “Crowds and Power” – and would not be out of place in these discussions.

Charlie Todd March 23, 2014 8:57 PM

Title “Power = Data x Control” Subtitle, if any, “Magnifying the impact of those we trust.”

I think the word “control” is critical to your point on feudalism, whether we give that control to companies, governments, employers, or blackmailers. Take any party with the ability to affect our social or physical well being, mix in very detailed specific data from our lives or intentions, and they have the ultimate power to persuade our behavior. This covers censorship, blackmail, towing the corporate line, or Mom showing off baby pictures to your new girlfriend.

A lack of control does not exert great power. Identity thieves cannot influence my behavior since they have important, but little data and no direct control of my life. Former significant others have lots of data, but control has been revoked so little to no power to influence behavior is present. Personal devices have lots of data, but unless it is transferred to someone with control in my life, like my favorite shopping site, that data can not be used against me to influence my behavior, AKA spend more money when I don’t want to.

Good luck with the book. Don’t do another sociology book, if you can avoid it. See if you can find an answer to the balance between decentralized control and power. Too decentralized and crime does more than exist, it flourishes (wolves). Too much centralized control and overt power flourishes (another wolf). The dove is personal freedoms.

Paul Ralley March 24, 2014 9:32 AM

I’d suggest:
“Absolute Data” as a title,

as a sub-title:
The emerging power derived from data; or
The emergent power in the information age.

I really enjoyed (and often use and quote) Liars and Outliers, so would be delighted to comment on an early draft – I’ll keep checking in on your blog.

TIM March 24, 2014 10:59 AM

My suggestion is:

Abusing your virtual identity – it’s real.

or instead of “it’s real” you could use “that’s reality” 🙂

Joe March 24, 2014 11:09 AM

Title Suggestion: “The Blob”

This is in reference to cryptographic “blobs”, the state of data where it may or may not be useful as information. In a sense, the NSA has collected a really massive “blob” consisting of of everyone’s data and control of this blob (ie, data governance) can be a source of great power.

And – you’re welcome!

chris l March 24, 2014 7:18 PM

@moz – I agree that PGP and GPG are algorithmically fine. It’s the integration into everyday email where they break down– it’s not at a level where your average non-technical user can easily integrate them and use them. For most users it has to be at a level of integration where it’s easier to use them than to not use them if they’re going to proliferate to everyone.

Chris Abbott March 24, 2014 9:48 PM

Cyberpolitics: The Power of Data in the Right Hands and in the Wrong Hands

Touches on the theme that this has made us less powerful and more powerful, at least for now…

Chris Abbott March 24, 2014 9:58 PM

Or Infopolitics: The Empowerment of Data in the Right Hands and the Danger of Data in the Wrong Hands

Data Power: How Data Empowers and Oppresses Us

Data Power/Data Hazard


Full Data Assault – The End of us All

TIM March 25, 2014 2:43 AM

Stay inside, it’s cold outside.

A few words for explanation:
Inside should be an allusion to “not posting too much information about your self online” and it’s cold because your personal informations, your digital behavior, your virtual ego is something people you don’t know (that’s why I used only outside because you don’t really know who are all the people abusing your data in other ways than you had in mind while posting them online or using devices, etc) use for their own good. They don’t have your personal luck or benefit in mind, but only theirs.

zoli March 25, 2014 5:21 AM

You’ll write about everyone’s data body, so the title may be:

  • ‘Power of DataBody’
  • ‘Powder of DataBodyBuilding’
  • ‘Pow’r Data Buddy’


anon March 25, 2014 3:20 PM

Data, the Currency of Power
The Road to Kleptocracy
Data: Commerce to Fascism
Data: The Ring to Rule Them All
Data: A Fine Tool for Tyrants
Data: Eliminate the Competition

David W March 25, 2014 5:14 PM


Four suggestions for titles:

1) Data Empires: Power and Politics in the Information Age
2) Infopolitik: The Battle for Big Data
3) The Data State: The Power of Big Data
4) Data Nation: The Power and Politics of Big Data

Stefan March 26, 2014 5:22 AM

Contrary to many of the above the title proposals that suggest turning the book into a combat organ of the suppressed people, i quite like the idea of keeping the title simple, analytical and as open as the field requires, which is really:

“On Data and Power” – Understanding their Shifts in the Information Age

Which is in line with the sober no-nonsense and name-what’s-what approach you generally approach any subject with in your previous books. I don’t want to be patronized on the goods and bads of the world, but rather informed and provided some structural thinking that is the result of someone i respect put his brains and wit to work on a complex subject to extract possibly valid pattens that help and guide my thinking about and assessing situations in the (currently) muddy waters of the modern data and power world.

Nancy Lebovitz March 26, 2014 4:37 PM

Data relates to power in (at least) three ways.

If you have a lot of data, you can promote your organization’s goals and/or you can make other people’s lives worse (including the people your organization theoretically serves) and/or you can weaken yourself by swamping yourself with more data than you can assimilate.

Dion Dennis March 26, 2014 7:19 PM

An alternative conceptual model to feudalism could well be the neo-Polizeiwissenschaft state. Polizeiwissenschaft (police science) was 18th Century German political theory, in contest with what became Adam Smithian liberalism:
What was it, and why is it relevant today:

 Life is the object of police: the indispensable, the useful, and the superfluous ... Police 'sees to living;' 'the objects which it embraces are in some sense indefinite ... [The task of] calculating detailed action appropriate to an infinity of unforeseeable and contingent circumstances is met by [the desire to create] an exhaustive detailed knowledge of reality... [that extends from cataloging the behavior of masses to the micro-details of an individual's life]. . Police is a science of endless lists and classifications ... a knowledge of inexhaustibly detailed and continuous control ... a kind of economic pastorate of men and things ... where the population is likened to a herd and flock ... [1] 

More than three centuries later, the actual, possible and probable use for “an Internet of Things” has met the knowledge production requirements and governance agenda of 18th Century Polizeiwissenschaft theorists . . .

Read more, here, at CTHEORY:

LandruBek March 27, 2014 5:13 PM

Unfortunately “data” and “power” are vague. My first associations for “data” are scientific data, medical data, and historical data. I guess what is meant are the digital footprints left when we use networks or just walk outside.

I’m not certain what kind of power is in view. When I hear “power,” the first things I think of are watts and electricity. But, if you find a way to evoke politics, then “power” is implied for free. If a mercantile, economic sort of power is also in view, then that merits a mention.

Anyway, here’s my concoction:

Digital Footprints and Political Tectonics

Tom March 28, 2014 9:38 AM

Concerning your title suggestions:

  • Data and Power: The Political Science of Information Security – Nice and clean, but also a bit boring.
  • The Feudal Internet: How Data Affects Power and How Power Affects Data – I can’t imagine “feudal” being the right word for what your book is about. If it is, you’re gonna have to explain that in the book.
  • Our Data Shadow: The Battles for Power in the Information Society – Beware the mighty data shadow! Run if you can! Too much yellow press for my taste. The subtitle is nice, though.
  • Data.Power: The Political Science of Information Security – Don’t do that. You’ll want the general public to read your book, not just programmers.
  • Data and Power in the Information Age – Boring.
  • Data and Goliath: The Balance of Power in the Information Age – No to biblical references!
  • The Power of Data: How the Information Society Upsets Power Balances – Title too boring, and I’m not sure if the subtitle is even correct. Does the information society upset power balances?

Concerning others’ suggestions:

  • Data and the Journey to Power: from micro information to macro control – You got that sense of dynamics with “journey”, you got the direction towards “power”. You also got that nice “micro” vs. “macro” thingy basically saying when all these little data pieces which we don’t care much about come together, it becomes huge. The only little downside of the subtitle is that one would expect “big data” and then gets “micro data”, but that might make people even more interested.
  • Data, Information, Knowledge, Power – Now that is a strong title. BOOM data, BOOM information, BOOM knowledge, BOOOOM power! Powerful but still very clean. Add a subtitle like The Battles for Power in the Information Society and you’re leaning a bit towards the polemic side of the spectrum though.

Go for Data, Information, Knowledge, Power: The Balance of Power in the Information Age if you can find a substitute for “power” in the subtitle.

Go for Data and the Journey to Power: from Micro Information to Macro Control otherwise.

And take all this with a grain of salt, English isn’t my first language.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons March 31, 2014 6:56 AM

@ Bruce Schneier, Clive, Nick P, 66536, figureitout, Buck, Dirk, and a long list of others…
My research has finally identified, codified, the development of a global U.S. based hegemonic system with the hidden hand mastering Big Data. Summary comments today are insufficient to establish an accurate enumeration that others may measure. It is a complex, structural, political, and commercial alignment that has in its sights specific targets. It is not what one have summized given what appears to be a series of clues provided by VARIOUS whistleblowers. I doubt the whistleblowers understand the extent or scope of activity that is becoming more coherent with each passing day.

There are several actions I’ve identified that can affect, delay, or deny the traitorious actions of a number of players that plan to transform much. Bruce, your announcement of a book could not come soon enough. One operational component is not in place and would make success of what is planned to make the U.S. economy more “efficient”. A clearer picture is forthcoming–just wanted to say that the horse I ride carries two lanterns.

Nick P March 31, 2014 11:13 AM

@ name.withheld

Well, that was a nice post full of nothing. Way to tease us. Anyway, if you’ve stumbled on what you say, I look forward to the real posts that show it to us. 😉

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons March 31, 2014 6:14 PM

@ Nick P

As a prequel, the antagonistic player (WS) promotes a business model that resemble patronage of the 18th and 19th century. If a tool such as ASN is provided to the multinationals, the lords, that can be used to make subjects out of SME’s–the peasants. BD can be used to flatten SME biz transaction–essentially making the nationals profitable.

I pray to Monty Phython that I might live.

Figureitout March 31, 2014 11:00 PM

–I abbreviate for “brevity” and less typing lol. It’d be interesting if you and I could arrange for a brief physical meeting so I we could establish you and I aren’t agents. If you were able to protect your lab and research from psycho agents then I definitely want to meet you. The best I could do is an email address or use a proxy thru another person on the blog; potentially. No need to reveal everything b/c agents will scoop that up, don’t give them anything. I’ve been able to keep these imbeciles distracted w/ hardcore porn and other garbage; don’t give them something useful. They’ve been too focused on what I want them to be to see the leaks happening right in their faces; these will be foreign exploits now if not already, and I won’t help them b/c they betrayed me.

e-sushi April 15, 2014 12:47 PM

Well, you asked for it…

“Suggestions for a better one — either a title or a subtitle — are appreciated.”

Based on “Data and Power” with a subline:

  1. Data and Power: Walking The Fine Line
  2. Data and Power: How The System Owns You
  3. Data and Power: The Information Age Strikes Back
  4. Data and Power: When Bits Start To Bite
  5. Data and Power: Wisdom To Control The Masses
  6. Data and Power: Behold The Knowledge
  7. Data and Power: Evolving Beyond Wargames
  8. Data and Power: Been There, Done It, They Know
  9. Data and Power: Controlling The Masses 2.0
  10. Data and Power: Revenge Of The Records

Alternatives which could also fit:

  1. Witch-Hunters and Data-Thieves
  2. Hear The Evil, See The Evil
  3. Weapons of Mass Control
  4. The Day Man Learned To Store Data
  5. The Axis Of Data
  6. Behind The Screens
  7. Covert Control
  8. Data Nukes
  9. Beyond Surveillance
  10. Collateral Empires And Data Damage
  11. Perpetuum Imperium (= Continuous Empire)
  12. Perpetuum Arbitrium (= Permanent Intrusion)
  13. Veni, Didici, Vici (= I came, I learned, I conquered)

David April 15, 2014 11:36 PM

How about this?

Data – Your Digital fingerprint

or (couldn’t decide what was better)

Data – Your Digital footprint

Data – Your Digital DNA

Basically what ever you do, you create ‘data’, that ‘data’ represents what and how you interact locally, nationally & internationally. Even trying to go ‘dark’ or should I say ‘Data dark’ these days is hard, due to all the passive surveillance that goes on CCTV, Road Toll Tags, and everything these days is geared towards the online world …. and some sort of acceptable ID.

S-boxVertigo April 16, 2014 12:38 PM

Just for the sake of brainstorming, consider:

Data Siphoning: The Powerhouse of the Information Age

I wouldn’t linger too much on it. After all, a title may kindle interest, but the real value is in the content.

Darzi April 16, 2014 4:13 PM

Data, Metadata, and Mining – the modern three monkeys of power?

Look forward to the book, however can see why so many here say they’d rather you helped our (data) safety by working on the technical design instead.

Anonymous ( needs a new definition? ) April 17, 2014 2:00 AM

Data and Delilah: A Clandestine Battle of Biblical Proportion to Control World(Global) Citizens Through Personal Information.


Data and Delilah: Modern Philistines and the Secret Battle to Control Our Lives Through Our Personal Information.

Feel free to comment Bruce. 🙂
Wiki quotes information from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Judges which seems so appropriate at this time. Samson to Delilah: The third time, he told her, “If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web..
How very appropriate.
Paranoia is a useful illness but so time consuming. ah well, welcome to the new Brave New World.

Wayne Warren April 17, 2014 7:25 AM

If you want whimsical:

Data and Power The Elephants in Your Room
Data and Goliath How the Philistines are Winning
Byte Power Big Data in Today’s World

Jeff O'Byrne April 17, 2014 8:29 AM

Looking forward to the new book. A salient point lies in the definitions of the key terms. While the technical community intuitively understands what data is, the commonly used dictionaries and media do not differentiate and therein lies the problem. (I even have a textbook that says data and information are the same.) If the audience doesn’t understand data, how can they understand metadata?

This problem was encountered whie preparing to teach my undergraduate IT classes. After much research provided nothing on which to base continuing study, the following definitions were drafted. They have been used for several years:
data- research verified facts used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation (O’Byrne)‎
information- data from one or more sources, subjected to intellectual processes to add value (O’Byrne)‎
knowledge- the internalized and generalized residue of information production. It has a data component and a process component. (O’Byrne)

These definitions are recursive, in that your book which is Information for you, is Data to me as I read it to use for my own purposes. I might process it intellectually by Orientation against my own Knowledge and comparison with other sources to make Information of it. Knowledge is both individual and corporate. The data component would typically be a factoid, e.g., in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue‎. The process component should include how the data was found and the intellectual effort expended to process it into information, e.g., if I need more data about Columbus, the primary resource is Admiral of the Ocean Sea by S. E. Morison. The intellectual effort can be physiological or digital.

These definitions can lead into many scenarios. Boyd’s Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action (OODA) Loop interacts with the definitions by Observing the Information, Orienting against the observer’s Knowledge with the ensuring Action generating Data to continue the cycle.

In another scenario we state that information systems were developed to provide data to feed application programs to make programmed decisions; application programs are the solidified intellectual processes that turn data into information and databases store the data to feed the application programs.

These definitions and subsequent discussion provide a framework for my classes in Systems Analysis, Database Management and Internet Applications. They have been normalized by several years of defense in class room discussion. Perhaps they, or more sophisticated versions might be useful in your efforts. The need for such definitions is readily identified.

Clive Robinson April 17, 2014 11:50 AM

@ Jeff O’Byrne,

While the technical community intuitively understands what data is, the commonly used dictionaries and media do not differentiate and therein lies the problem.

Yes it’s a problem [1] and as you note most dictionaries are not of much help, nor are quite a few technical books fepending on their age.

I currently hold the view that information is intangible and becomes data when imperfectly quantatised and impressed on tangible elements for storage and communication. As such knowledge is due to the processing of the quantitised data in some manner.

To see this think about the scientific method, natural laws appear to dictate the behaviour of matter, the information on this simply exists irespective of if we observe it or not (apples were falling long before one supposedly bounced of Newton’s head and rocks were swirling in space long before man existed). By measuring and recording the observations we are quantatising and impressing on physical objects the information as data. When sufficient observing measuring and recording has been done this data can be processed to reveal the patterns within it that are then again recorded in physical form as knowledge.

[1] I raised this issue above,

Paul Edwards April 24, 2014 6:01 AM

I also like the feudal analogy that you bring. How about:

“The Feudal Internet: Data, Power, and the new Lords of the Manor”

(My original thought was: “The Feudal Internet: Data, Power, Serfs, and the new Lords of the Manor”, but on re-reading the first paragraph of your article thought the Serfs took away from the many roles you identified there).


“The Feudal Internet: Power, Serfs, and the Lords of the Data”

(perhaps implying a causality there that you may not want implied)

Good luck with the manuscript, and I’m looking forward to putting up my hand to help review when the call comes out.

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