on monday a guy walked into the psychology class i’m in and sat next to me. about 30 minutes into class, he leans over and whispers, ‘this isn’t algebra.’ and calmly stands up and walks out of the room. luv college
(NOTE: I cannot claim this is an unbiased review. It is more of a general discussion. Violet Blue (the author and yes, her real name) and I have had various online interactions and spoken well of each-other in the past. I was the first entry in a post she did about computer security humor accounts on Twitter. We have had ongoing discussion about various things, but never related to influencing my writings. I have never had any personal involvement, personal meeting, or financial dealings with her. I would also like to disclose I received a copy of the book for free, in no way related to me ever writing anything about it. Writing this was purely my own idea and never asked or even encouraged.)
Summarized, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy is a work that details all manners of threats to privacy, how they can be exploited, what to do to prevent them, and what to do when that fails. This includes such varied subjects as addressing account takeovers, taking down photos with DMCA, the danger of cross-provider account connections, identity theft, people search websites, scammers on dating services, not letting cell phone company reps configure your new cell phone, and more. Worst-case is not the only thing focused on. All manner of advice is offered across the entire spectrum.
Violet Blue wrote The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy before the celebrity photo hacking revelations in 2014. This event brought intense attention to online privacy and security, and there will be other entries in the market to take advantage of that. But I like that she wrote this before it would be easy to tell a publisher, “I can write about this and we can make a bunch of money off the sensational misfortune of others.” She writes as someone personally targeted and impacted. It is not an academic exercise for her. Where she discusses being attacked online and off is short, but brings home the importance of what she’s saying. People will identify with her and see themselves - especially women - and that is powerful.
Violet’s past in covering the intersection of things as private as sexuality and technology has given her work an earnest style. It’s not clinical, instead like a book of advocacy for those most vulnerable to being exploited through violations of privacy. She establishes a relationship of unjudging understanding with the reader. This is not a book written to lambast people for being sexual or doing things they don’t ever want people to see. This is about how to increase safety when doing so. Expecting abstinence online is not rooted in reality, like expecting abstinence in person. The people wagging their fingers at women taking personal photos would fit in a modern-day Puritan-Luddite colony.
Also interesting is how much of a focus there is on the subject of privacy and institutional threats to it in general, rather than constantly changing tech specifics about where to click in an interface. Don’t get me wrong, this does have plenty of specifics that should be relevant for years to come. But this is also about larger, universal knowledge about where data and privacy can be lost, the information useful to attackers, separation of accounts, good practices, and general societal commentary on how we approach this subject.
The most difficult part of writing any piece on technology for the masses (or any subject) is that you will be accused of leaving out detail, and have that used as evidence of your lack of authority. There is always another critical tidbit you could have covered with just an extra sentence or two. But you have to draw a line. This isn’t a dissertation on security theory or the intricacies of WHOIS archiving services. It is to reach the public. The public we so often insult for being clueless, who we then tell the only way to better themselves is to become experts like us.
I really liked her focus on not just prevention - but also addressing those who have already been compromised. Violet talks about what to do on a scale larger than resetting a password on a single account. Addressed are larger tasks like changing your email address, how to report loss of n account, what to do when financial information is disclosed, and more.
I have to give special accolades for her focus on talking to women and other groups at larger risk when compromised. These are groups who most feel alienated by technology culture, and ones who need to be reached out to more than anyone. Violet speaks of the threats against them, but in a tone about empowerment. In bold, one section head says “FIGHT BACK" after being hacked and tells readers exactly how to do it. Restraining orders. DMCA takedown requests. Peppered in, "Don’t quit the Internet."
Telling us “you shouldn’t have done it” or “what did you expect” is pointless. Instead of blaming and shaming, how about some information you can really use to help you can make the decisions that are right for you, and equip you with tools to mitigate, minimize and even possibly avoid damage if something goes wrong?
Also acknowledged is that being hacked isn’t just a loss of technical control over some 1’s and 0’s. There are emotional impacts discussed that I have never before seen in any mainstream work about what to do when you’re hacked.
Because it is such a fast read, and while things are broken down into general sections for those in an emergency, it is a book best read cover to cover - and before you are on the clock figuring out a compromise. Although I knew almost everything in the book, I valued reading it because it reinforced my confidence in dealing with these subjects and talking about them in ways more focused on people than abstract tech concepts.
In a world where our technology is our life, a violation of our technology is a violation of our life. Through her own struggles and advocacy she brings a book that everyone should read.