Reading Diary: Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman

There's kind of two theories of the web. The first theory is that it's the best thing ever, the culmination of human civilization, incapable of being anything negative in anyone's lives. Proponents of this theory can't stand it when anyone says anything mean about the web (or usually any technology) in public or especially online.

The other theory is the chicken little theory. According to this theory, the web (and usually any technology) is the reason the world is going to hell in a hand basket. All the bad things in the world are because the web is disrupting science and art and culture.

Needless to say, neither of these caricatures is wholly true or false. Each have their famous online proponents. You probably know who I'm talking about. Personally I'm in neither camp. Both seem kind of like a technology religion. Personally, I'm kind of a technology agnostic. I take no particular absolute position on the goodness or badness of the web (or any technology, really, from 3d printers all the way to lead pencils). Technologies are good or bad mostly in how they get used by human cultures, with obviously some technologies easier to misuse that others.

And so it is with Marc Goodman's new book, Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. For such a sobering book about such an alarmist topic, I kind of think that Goodman might actually identify himself more as a technology agnostic rather than any particular fundamentalist sect. Since he's a former cop, it might be expected that he would come down on the more alarmist/law and order side of things but thankfully that was not the case.

To be honest, I was expecting Future Crimes to be quite alarmist, even scaremongering, about the threats of computer crime and perhaps much harder on "hackers," phishers and other bad actors in the tech world and perhaps a little too soft on just as serious threats from government, tech companies and big business. I was pleasantly surprised. At the end of the day, he's fairly even-handed in his treatment of all the various threats out there in the technological wild west. Sure, maybe he's a bit gentler with Big Tech and Silicon Valley and their government lapdogs (or is that the other way around?) than he could have been but in his rather exhaustive cataogue of all the bad things that bad people can do to you with all the various emerging technologies out there, he definitely doesn't give them a pass. Which is great, given that his focus is obviously on explicitly criminal activity he probably could have easily passed over those other threats and most probably wouldn't have noticed.

And Goodman also has a fairly broad definition of "crime." His general treatment of threats to our safety and privacy also includes the kinds of spying, data gathering, side-effect, unintended consequences and manipulation -- again, by bad guy hackers as well as government and corporations or even caused by accidents or bugs -- that are deeply invasive but not really against any laws. Let's just say Google, Facebook, the NSA and all the rest do not escape unscathed from Goodman's chronicle.

Goodman also does the world a huge service by going through all those shiny new technologies that the disruptophiles want you to embrace in your blind rush to an online and totally exposed and commercialized identity -- 3D printers, mobile phones, home automation, driverless cars, big data, social networks, mobile payment, GPS, airport security, gamification, drones & robots, wearable computing, biometrics, facial recognition, autonomous killing machines, brain computer interfaces, nanotech, and all the rest. And one by one, he shows how all these technologies have been hacked and compromised by someone. And he gives examples. It's sobering stuff.

Does he have solutions? Not really, but he does devote the whole final section of the book advocating for a more human-centred design, with an emphasis on both recognizing that the human factor is the weakest link in any security system and without victim-blaming that there is a part we can all play in learning to take reasonable precautions. Playing our part in surviving progress and the way forward, to combine the last two chapter titles. There's nothing revolutionary in that section at all, but while completely recognizing that the genie is out of the bottle and none of these technologies are going away, he does make a very clear call for all the stakeholders to get together and formulate a kind of Manhattan project of cyber security and human-centered design.

A few quibbles. This is a long book, so I did tend to suffer a bit of threat exhaustion after a while, so perhaps a narrower but less comprehensive coverage would have been better. Related to that, some parts of the book did seem a bit too skimmable for comfort, the sections tended to be quite predictably structured so there was a bit of sameness after a while.

Overall, I recommend this book as a good introduction to online security and crime issues. While perhaps not academic enough for many university library collections, it is a good enough popular introduction for institutions that collect those sorts of treatments of technology topics. This book would probably fit better in public library collections.

If this book is a cyber threats 101 course with a very broad coverage, I definitely look forward to reading Bruce Schneier's Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World for an more in-depth treatment of data security.

Goodman, Marc. Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. New York: Doubleday, 464pp. ISBN-13: 978-0385539005

(Review copy picked up at Ontario Library Association publisher booth.)

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