Data and Goliath

Bruce Schneier W.W. Norton, 383 pages, $27.95

Society has more digital information than ever and can do new things with it. Google can identify flu outbreaks using search queries; the National Security Agency aspires to do the same to find terrorists. At the same time, people are under constant surveillance by companies and governments, since the rules protecting privacy are hopelessly out of date.

In "Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World," Bruce Schneier, a computer-security expert, does a fine job of laying out the problems caused by this compulsive collection of personal data, and suggests some steps that would help protect society from the most egregious excesses.

In business, personal information has become a sort of raw material. Many smartphone apps can afford to be free because the companies that develop them sell the users' personal data, something barely explained in the terms and conditions. Yet people do not need to disclose their details directly. Such information can also be inferred from patterns of behavior and social networks.

Schneier does a good job of analyzing the problems, including the increasing activity by the U.S. government, although his solutions do contain some duds. But he also argues for stronger rules to prevent companies from collecting so much data in the first place.