The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy by Violet Blue is an important book for all women to read, especially those who are active online using social media and other websites. The book explains the risks associated with sharing personal information and describes how you can protect your data and yourself. The book also gives advice on what to do if you are a victim of identity theft, online harassment, and other breaches of privacy.
Blue is journalist who specializes in technology and sex. These combined specialties give her a unique view of privacy. For example, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy covers activities such as using online dating sites that more conservative privacy pundits may consider absolute no-nos.
The difference between risky behaviors in real life and risky behaviors on the Internet is that on the Internet many people don’t realize their behaviors are risky until something bad happens. You may know to be cautious when walking alone at night, but you may not know when you should be cautious entering data on a website. In The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, Blue does an excellent job of describing the risks associated with a wide variety of online activities.
The scenarios she describes may seem scary and extreme, but they are all realistic examples of what can happen. Unprotected personal data can allow someone to damage your reputation or can lead to financial loss. Losing control of your personal data can even result in threats to your physical safety.
To counter those risks, Blue shares a variety of techniques for how to protect your data, your privacy, and yourself. She explains which data is most in need of protection. She provides some privacy tips that are very simple to implement like putting a piece of a Post-It note over your webcam when not in use (which is something I have done for years). Other techniques require a higher level of effort like encrypting emails.
One very smart thing that Blue does is avoid the details of how to do all but the simplest of privacy protection techniques. For most things she points you to outside resources (typically websites or software products), which she also summarizes in a resources section at the end of the book. Doing this keeps the book from getting bogged down with technical details while still providing you the tools you need.
A unique aspect of the book is the attention paid to what to do after a privacy breach such as identity theft, online harassment, or posting of compromising photos and video without your consent. Even if you haven’t experienced these things you may need this information someday. Perhaps knowing how difficult the aftermath can be will inspire you to take more privacy protective measures now.
Blue’s writing is casual and relaxed. The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy is not a dry, jargon-heavy technology book. My primary criticism is that sometimes her writing gets relaxed to the point of rambling. A stronger editor could have honed some overly repetitive sections to help them more quickly get the their points. However, at 133 estimated ebook pages this book is very short read even if it meanders at times.
Should women read this book?
Despite the word girl’s in the title this is a must read for Internet using women of all ages. That’s not to say this isn’t for girls as well. If I had a tween or teen daughter who was using social media and other Internet apps I would make her read this book, and if you have a daughter who falls into that category I recommend that you do too. (Note: There is some frank discussion of sex and sexuality, but nothing that an Internet-using girl of that age shouldn’t already know.)
Should men not named Steve read this book?
Blue writes in the book that “people of all genders and orientations are warmly welcomed here.” In fact some of her examples involve male victims including Mat Honan’s epic hacking, which has become an obligatory example in the information security world. (I’ve referenced it too.)
However, most of the book depicts men as either potential stalkers, harassers, and identity thieves or as persons horribly unsympathetic to the woes of women online.
If you can look past those rather misandrist leanings all the information in this book is applicable and useful to men as well, even if the perception is that they are targeted less frequently online.
Should men named Steve read this book?
Blue’s go to moniker for a generic harasser, stalker, scammer, or identify thief is “Creepy Steve.” If you are a non-creepy Steve I can see that example getting really annoying. There is probably another book you can read that won’t constantly call you out as the bad guy.
Unanticipated conflict disclosure
When I bought this book with my own money I didn’t expect that I’d need any sort of conflict of interest disclosure at all. Then, I read Violet Blue’s bio, which included the fact that her human sexuality blog is tinynibbles.com (NSFW). I was familiar with that url because I started getting web traffic from there after she shared my post about talking dirty to my NSA polygrapher. Although I appreciate the extra page views they did not influence this review.
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