I read a lot of nonfiction.
So yeah, this is not news. I read a lot of nonfiction, and a lot of it I find interesting, and a lot of it I enjoy. But sometimes I read nonfiction that, even if it isn't a particularly great book as such, still makes me go, holy fuck. Everybody should really read this.* One of the best examples of a book like that (for me), was John Bowe's title Nobodies. In addition to being a mind-bending read, that one was also a great book, well reported and written, so it was a twofer. But that's the book where Bowe trotted this little truth out for me (and yes, I'm paraphrasing, one of these days I have to get that book back and find the exact quote): people figure the system is broken and could be fixed. What they actually don't realize is that the system is working exactly the way the system was set up to work. (Italics mine.) As I said: Holy fuck. I'm still recovering from that devastating nugget. I can't decide if reading that was the exact moment I gave up on politics, or if that was coming for me anyway.
But I digress. Another one of these types of books that I read a while back was Future Crimes (paperback subtitle: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World), by Marc Goodman. This is a dense brick of a book all about the security vulnerabilities in the current version of our Internet and in all our online systems. It is also about the many ways that criminals can find and use our personal information (and how hard it is to prosecute them, particularly if they are executing crimes in different countries from the ones in which they are sitting at their computers--who has jurisdiction over a hacking job taking place in Russia when the victims are elsewhere, for example?), and, even worse, how perfectly legal companies collect and exploit our personal information as well. Oh, and let's not forget the information about how most programming and coding these days is done fast and sloppy (by design), which leaves big holes and vulnerable bugs in most software and online applications. Also: the chapter on the Dark Web, which still gives me nightmares.
Every page of this book was more horrifying than the last. I'm sorry I don't have any more concrete examples for you--I had a whole bunch of pages bookmarked but the youngest CRjr views it as his personal mission to pull all the bookmarks out of my books--but trust me, you don't have to read for more than two pages at any point in the book to be appalled.
That in fact was one of the criticisms of this book that I read in several reviews: it is just too dense, and reads like a laundry list of examples. And that is true. There is not much of an overarching narrative structure here. But I found each example to have its own little storyline, and I read the book slowly, over the course of a few weeks (as noted: it is dense), so that was no problem. It's full of information, but none of it is particularly hard information to understand. Criminals? Here's how they take and use all of your information, sometimes including your identity. Companies? Here's what they are all collecting on you, and what that means (I DO remember one particular example of people who joined what they thought was an anonymous health web site/community, and eventually companies were able to track down their identities just by parsing the information they gave the site).
Oh, and the last little bit on things you can do to protect yourself from the vulnerabilities in the coming Internet of Things, and all the other ways in which our privacy is violated, is pretty laughable. "Use strong passwords" and all that jazz. So yeah. This book was not perfect.
But overall? I think you should read it. I think you should skip the chapter on the dark web, so you can keep on living without despair eating away at your soul, but still, at least give it a skim. One of my favorite outcomes of reading it is that I'm much more aware of privacy and Internet security articles and news items whenever I come across them, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Have you been reading the "Passcode" section of the online Christian Science Monitor? Great articles on this topic. Damn, I love the CSM.
*Yes, I'm assuming that everyone reads. And has ample time to do so. I am informed by many reliable sources that neither of those statements are really true.