US critic of digital age Jaron Lanier scoops German book prize

An American critic of the digital age has been awarded a prestigious German book prize for his groundbreaking role in exploring the risks of today’s internet technologies.

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Jaron Lanier, credited with coining the phrase “virtual reality”, has scooped this year’s Peace Prize of the German Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association, at a time when the country is engaged in a heated debate about internet security.

The prize, which carries a 25,000 euro ($A37,498) endowment, comes exactly a year after former CIA intelligence contractor Edward Snowden began revealing the vast scope of the US data dragnet, triggering privacy fears.

Data-sensitive Germans in particular reacted with outrage to the leaks.

Lanier’s two books, which include last year’s Who Owns the Future? have helped make the California-based 54-year-old “one of the most important critics of the digital world in our time”, the association said in a statement.

It described the 2013 work as “a call to equip the digital universe with structures that respect the rights of individuals while simultaneously fostering democratic participation”.

The book looks at the concentration of power and money in today’s digital networks.

Lanier, who has also worked in the field as an entrepreneur and researcher, had highlighted “the threats our open society faces when deprived of the power to control its own progress and development”, it added.

The prize, which ranks behind the country’s top literary award, the Georg Buechner Prize, will be presented during the Frankfurt book fair in October.

Past winners have included Turkey’s Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and Chinese dissident author Liao Yiwu.