One of the journalists who broke the news of U.S. government surveillance of citizens based on the leaks of Edward Snowden offers an overview of the world wide web and the forces that govern and economize it.
... nimble and persuasive ... Drawing on unusually candid interviews with a series of tech insiders and writing in terms that nontechnical readers can understand, Ball pulls away the software curtain to reveal a more complex institutional and corporate history ... Ball is particularly helpful in offering a deep dive into the business of online advertising, whose tools and tactics make the data privacy intrusions of the online world possible, and whose perverse incentives have both undermined the economics of old media and clogged our consoles with clickbait ... It is indeed high time to move beyond the malevolent-overlord thesis of some recent tech critique. This book is refreshing and necessary in this regard. But we need to change our institutions as well as our thinking. As Ball’s evidence makes clear, a sharp power imbalance between public and private sectors is at the root of our problems. We are overdue for a systemic correction.
... the author confidently assembles a critical history of the technology, politics, and business of online life, arguing that its appealing spontaneity invited unforeseen consequences, from financial malfeasance to authoritarianism. He keeps this sprawling account lucid ... Ball captures the perspectives and backgrounds of a variety of significant players, from tech pioneers to privacy advocates ... A rueful, engaging discussion of the internet’s problematic centrality to these difficult times.
... [a] knowledgeable yet lackluster account ... Though Ball notes that the people who have shaped the internet are 'overwhelmingly Western and overwhelmingly male,' he only brushes on the ramifications of that fact, and allows his interview subjects to hype their achievements without providing much fact-checking. Ball lucidly explains the mechanics of networks, servers, and programmatic advertising, but blames media companies for 'hastening their demise by participating in the data-driven ad world' without fully acknowledging the lack of choices they have ... This would-be exposé misses the mark.