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review 2014-12-02 00:40
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy by Gabriella Coleman
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous - Gabriella Coleman

If you’re interested in the Internet and its workings, then this book is for you. Yes, it’s about Anonymous, but in a way it’s also about the place that the Internet was believed (and hoped) to be, as opposed to what it has become. The topic is important, and the author, Gabriella Coleman, goes deeper into the question than anyone else whose work I’ve read. Unfortunately, for me personally, the execution was a bit disappointing. The anthropologist’s personal storytelling style did not appeal to me. Of course, that is a personal preference, and like I said, the book’s subject matter is incredibly interesting and timely: studying the origins of Anonymous, their activities, how they relate to other online and offline groups, their political significance, and more.

This book has a lot of information that I hadn’t come across elsewhere, and it is all neatly packed into a narrative that makes sense (well, mostly). Perhaps the biggest revelation, for me, was not about the Anonymous themselves, but as to the strategies their “opponents” use to try to neutralize them. By “them” I also mean activists, journalists, and others, and who’s to say who the next targets will be? It’s enough to make you want to turn all your electronics off and run for the hills.

While the writing wasn’t always to my liking, I had a hard time putting this book down. Reality is indeed stranger than fiction, and it makes for engrossing reading. Recommended.


Note: I got this book for review purposes through NetGalley.

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review 2014-11-18 20:52
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous - Gabriella Coleman

(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for a honest review.)

An interesting read, but one that I found rather hard to read all at once—probably because it felt pretty dense and dry, with a lot of information that seemed to meander at times. I guess this was kind of unavoidable, because there is just so much to learn, to research, to take into account when studying such a broad subject, involving so many people, whose approaches and means of actions are as different as each individual in the lot. Nevertheless, I only managed to read it little bits by little bits.

The book allows for a better understanding of some of the best known cases in which Anonymous (as various groups) was involved, like Chanology and WikiLeaks, among others. This is a double-edged sword, though, in that it is useful if you know at least little... but if you know nothing at all, it's going to be very confusing.

On the other hand, the author appeared as genuinely fascinated by her research. She made a point of trying to get in (well, as "in" as possible—clearly she couldn't "get" everything, especially not what predated the 2006-2007 years) to get a better understanding of her topic, and to cast a more critical eye on a lot of tricky aspects surrounding Anonymous as a whole: people who got access to sensitive data and exposed it, people who dabbled on the fringes, people who supported the actions labelled as "Anonymous", etc. I was expecting more bias, but she also took care of mentioning some of the (official, governmental) moves made against certain participants in the movement, without necessarily endorsing them as "the thing to do against the Bad Hackers (because that's what I'm supposed to say to be on the right side of the law)". Granted, she didn't avoid all the pitfalls; however, her research in general could have been much more biased, and fortunately wasn't.

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review 2013-10-27 00:00
Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking
Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking - E. Gabriella Coleman Although this book is a PhD dissertation and contains some anthropology technical jargon, Coleman's tone is casual, making it surprisingly accessible.

I learned a lot about the F/OSS movement and being surrounded by developers all day (and pretending to be one myself) I think she perfectly captured the culture. Through this book I also learned more about my own political stance, coming to open source from a political background rather than from pure development.

The particular dichotomies she describes (between meritocratism and communal action; and between free speech and intellectual property law) are thought-provoking and spurred me to find out more. Although I had used Ubuntu, I had no experience or knowledge of Debian and began to investigate. To put it another way, this book has influenced how I do my personal computing (eg. being aware of and making more ethical choices, where possible).

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the ethics of computing (which should be everyone IMHO) or developers who are not already inside the F/OSS community.
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