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Book Review: The Closing of the Net, by Monica Horten

Posted by on August 8, 2016.

Many books are insightful. The author has a vision, or an interpretation, or a prediction to make. These books all show insight, used by their writers to express a unique viewpoint. Rarer than all is a book which offers its readers insight; where the author does not simply demonstrate their own understanding, but allows the reader to gain new understanding of their own. Chapter by chapter, The Closing of the Net paints an intricate picture of the politics and law of data privacy in Europe and beyond. Monica Horten’s understanding of internet politics is succinct and incisive, making this just such a book.

netbookcoverNever has it been more clearly shown how many disparate interests are at work, all vying to get the most possible out of the net for their own ends. But this is no conspiracy handbook; there’s no suggestion of a coordinated, malicious organisation, no underlying Illuminati plot hook. Only by thorough research and scrupulous fact-checking are we shown, almost step by step, how business decisions and new policies, mostly mundane in themselves, can come together over time to make dangers for consumers. And yes, sometimes, how even worse situations have been averted.

Net neutrality’s triumphs are documented with as much scrupulous thoroughness as its failures and threats, and Horten holds back her own judgement until the final chapter. The integrity and restraint shown by presenting the politics of the internet in as neutral and factual a way as possible only serves to make the revelations more striking, hitting home that much harder. With this lack of rancour or rhetoric, it would be so easy for the text to lapse into dry, plodding academia, but thanks to its brisk and self-assured writing style, The Closing of the Net remains readable and engaging from cover to cover.

The Closing is alarmingly topical. These forces are at work at this very moment, and some aspects are still in flux, awaiting major decisions from lawmakers. But the book is able to be so razor sharp on the current issues only with a thorough understanding of the internet’s history, how past decisions on privacy have worked to create today’s situations.

If there is one pitfall into which the book falls, it is that each chapter begins at quite a slow pace. It’s more a consequence of the subject matter than anything else; these are complex issues, and to make sure all the readers have enough information to understand them completely, there is a great deal of background information, law, history and policy that needs to be outlined. This is a trade-off between comprehensive information and the flow of writing; each chapter is a nearly self-contained discussion of a particular topic, and all the facts are there to give readers a full understanding of the issues. This does mean that the book never feels quite like it hits a stride, with each new chapter halting the momentum, but for what The Closing intends to accomplish, it was the right trade to make.

By the nature of its content, The Closing of the Net has a certain patience barrier which must be overcome before it can be fully appreciated. Data protection, copyright law, politics and business – not exactly light subjects. Beyond that barrier is a book that will not talk down to its reader, will not trivialize or gloss over its subject matter. Beyond that barrier is an enlightening, thorough and eye-opening view of the internet behind the web pages and behind the content. It’s an essential read for anyone interested in understanding the forces at play behind the web. With how important the internet has become for normal life, it’s just as essential for anyone who wants to stay informed on politics in general. Scholarly and meticulous, yet engaging and compelling, The Closing of the Net is an impeccable examination of the most significant medium of our era.

To preserve privacy and net neutrality, the most important thing any individual can do is to stay aware and informed. The Closing of the Net is the perfect resource with which to do that. Not only is it nearly up-to-the-minute with today’s internet issues, but its thorough exploration of current and past events means that, for a long time to come, it will be a great source of insight.

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Submitted in: Expert Views, Josh Townsend |