For anyone who is a parent or spends significant time online this is an important and terrifying book. Dr. Aiken is a psychologist who specializes in forensics and public policy regarding the Internet, particularly in the international context with INTERPOL. She is also a consultant for the television show CSI:Cyber and has a position to influence public knowledge of these concepts through that medium as well. With this focus, she understandably comes into contact with the worst corners of the Internet. She begins the book by establishing a foundation of how human behavior changes online such as: increased inhibition and the ability to amplify and spread behaviors more quickly. She goes on to survey a wide swath of Internet activity from gaming, online dating, social media, black markets, predatory behavior, hacking and fringe communities finding each other on the Internet.
As a librarian that stands for a healthy exchange of ideas in society, her advocacy for limitations on the Internet and mentioning China as a model for segmenting the Internet from its citizens is a bit unsettling. However, she does mention the importance of a balance between regulation and the protection of personal privacy. The free exchange of ideas is one that she sees more as a risk and danger rather than a social good. There is a whole aspect of hacker culture and ethics that she misses because of her focus on criminal and malicious hacking activity. Because she is grounded in cybersecurity and forensics and librarianship is grounded in providing access and information to all, there is an understandable tension between our philosophical and professional perspectives.
With that said, there are some truly nasty and disgusting corners of the Web that I wouldn’t want to go and certainly wouldn’t want my children coming into contact with. As a parent it is important that I train my kids to learn how to navigate the Web and be aware of the dangers as well and blocking off access for their benefit. Her portrayal of child predator behavior online is worth the price of the book alone as a parent. Also, her attempts to get countries to cooperate with each other on legal jurisdiction to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation are good to read about. There are also technological measures that can be taken and her algorithm to detect cyber-bullying on social media is a promising aspect of using technology in a positive way.
I recommend this book with the qualification that it be read alongside a book that takes a deeper and philosophical approach like Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. Turkle’s book fills the gaps in research that Aiken doesn’t cover and does a better job of balancing the positive and negative aspects of technology. Turkle has also done decades of research on the aspects of how behavior changes online. Aiken, pulls work like Turkle’s into the broader world of security and public policy. Parents and professionals will have a more complete view of this topic if this book is not the only one that is read about the impact of the Internet and online behavior.