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.