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Computer Privacy Annoyances: How to Avoid the Most Annoying Invasions of Your Personal and Online Privacy

Book Author: Dan Tynan
First Edition July 2005
O'Reilly Press: Beijing, Cambridge, Farhnam, K”ln, Paris, Sebastopol, Taipei, Tokyo
190 pages
List Price: $19.95, Value: priceless

Dan Tynan starts off with a couple of personal revelations, such as how he got to be writing this book and how much of himself he'll share. He also notes his discovery that " . . . privacy is, well, personal. Everyone has an individual definition of what's an acceptable level of privacy and when that limit has been exceeded." For example, his wife loves receiving the catalog offers that he loathes. As a result, he reports a variety of ways to address most privacy annoyances and potential problems.

Though just this side of full-blown paranoia most of the time, Tynan does distinguish levels of vulnerability and sensible precaution. Is it clear that your online banking needs better password protection and encryption than your records of your kids' Little League schedules? He didn't say it out loud, but his cautions frequently reminded me that way back when a computer took up a good-sized store room and needed a dedicated air conditioning system, we had a saying: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." But now the ageist cry has turned around to "Never trust anyone under 30."

Annoyances has explanations replete with screen shots. Unfortunately, a lot of the screen shots are just a little too small to be completely readable (as noted by a representative of the way-over-30 contingent). This might be OK for a graphic whose purpose is to give a general idea of the configuration of the desktop at a given point. However it's a major annoyance (ahem) when an essential detail is included/obscured in the screen shot. Exactly which one is the radio button I'm supposed to pick in order to make my life safe and secure without limiting my freedom or spending all my waking hours covering my tracks? And what are you hiding in that black-on-gray fine print? Something else I'd like to see in the next edition are page references when another section is discussed. In this edition, Tynan rarely tells me where to look when he refers in passing to a Table, Chart, Figure, Tip, or Sidebar. Is it coming right up (get my thumb off the page, and I'd see it)? Is it two pages back, or in the last chapter?

Given the publishing cycle, a book on any technology topic except the early history of the field has to be out of date by the time Amazon gets it. (Even history can change, as new developments bring focus on different antecedents.) However, this nearly-three-year-old edition of Annoyances agrees surprisingly well with the October 2006 issue of Consumer Reports (pp. 41-45).

Of course, Tynan goes into much greater detail. He includes phone numbers and internet addresses for following up, checking for various potential problems and security leaks and for plugging them where possible. He subdivides privacy concerns into the areas of life where they occur: at home, at work, on the Net, in public, with governments mostly Federal, though he has some discussion of interesting state variability in managing citizen privacy and security. Moving the data in all these areas to computer databases has enabled access by almost anyone; the ease with which databases can be combined means that information that formerly sat in isolated dusty drawers and files can now be linked and massaged to easily relieve the typical citizen of her rights, reputation, and/or cash. The ''Privacy in the Future" section discusses implications of current trends, precautions that could be taken to prevent further erosion of privacy and to limit unauthorized access and potentially harmful use of one's data.

This could be an intense, dense technical tome. Instead, varying from straight exposition to sidebar to tip and including many tables and charts helps make it comprehensible. Tynan's conversational style adds to the readability, though a couple of times, his vernacular sent me scrambling for the dictionary.

There have been some changes in focus since Tynan wrote: renewal of the Homeland Security Act was just gearing up as he wrote and college campuses were trying to figure out how to cope with the original Napster. On the other hand, RFIDs (Radio Frequency ID chips) were just moving into the public consciousness beyond a way of identifying a lost pet and potential abuses of medical and genetic records were becoming apparent. His information is still surprisingly current, given the annoying speed of change in areas computer-related. I had intended to read Computer Privacy Annoyances and then pass it on. Given the amount of useful information and the number of useful web addresses and telephone numbers, I'm going to hang on to it for a while. You can get your own at www.oreilly.com. Note that you're a user group member for a discount and look for other offers. As I'm writing, there's a 3 books for the price of 2 offer.

In summary, computers being a powerful tool, they can be used for good or ill. Just as truck drivers need more training than the drivers of passenger cars, we as users need training in how to manage computer power for our own benefit. While details change, and specific companies and scams come and go, computer safety has to be added to crossing the street in the instructions for growing up in the 21st Century.

Computer Privacy Annoyances provides a sound set of guidelines for protecting your identity (or rescuing it if stolen); fighting back against aggressive marketers; stopping (or at least slowing) spam, viruses, adware, spyware and other invasions; avoiding cyber-stalking; shopping safely; protecting your home network; coping with work-place monitoring of surfing and email; and telling those folks who are profiting from use of your personal data to cease and desist. Just gathering all the resources to address these issues is (was for Dan Tynan) a major project. Make use of his work: go forth and protect yourself without hiding from all public contact and unplugging totally.

P.S. I was charmed by the list of cities where O'Reilly has offices: Beijing, Cambridge, Farhnam, K”ln, Paris, Sebastopol, Taipei, Tokyo. I assume Beijing, Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo refer to the cities that are the capital of their respective countries. (Though more US states have a Paris than don't.) Do readers of their books know, or care, that Sebastopol is a small and scenic town just north of San Francisco that hasn't been part of Russia for well over a century. Don't ask me which San Francisco.

Computer Privacy Annoyances: How to Avoid the Most Annoying Invasions of Your Personal and Online Privacy

First Edition July 2005
O'Reilly Press: Beijing, Cambridge, Farhnam, K”ln, Paris, Sebastopol, Taipei, Tokyo
190 pages
List Price: $19.95, Value: priceless

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