We are all in uncharted territory. We all share the same nascent wonder at the way the Web is unfolding. We have all been taken by surprise at the expanding number of ways we connect to the Internet; and none of us are sure where we’re going.
In the past five years we’ve seen smart phones and tablet PCs taking the world by surprise. Now almost 50% of us connect to the Internet via smartphone or tablet PC. Gone are the days when we sat in our dens, computer rooms or bedrooms, tethered to a big desktop and explored the wonders of the Web.
It is not surprising therefore, that we find ourselves confused about things. Smartphones and tablets spurred the growth of the cloud. The cloud sounds like some mysterious new thing – but it’s been around as long as Web mail – a long, long time. But the cool-speakers found a catchy name and it stuck – so we’re stuck with “the cloud”. It means “the Internet” – it means applications that run from the Internet. It means storing files on the Internet. But there term “Internet” sounds as outdated as calling cars “horseless carriages”. You’ve got to be cool. So it’s “the cloud” whether we like it or not. Apple will soon have its own “iCloud”. (You’d think they’d get tired of the i-thing?)
The world has pretty much been always “all about the money”, so it should be no surprise to anyone that the Web, the Internet, and/or the cloud (whichever term you prefer) should also evolve into a mirror of the world which created it – and it too should become all about the money.
Pandering to people’s fears has always been a great way to tap into their wallets. Whether it was the snakeoil salesmen who traveled around the U.S.A. in the early 1900’s, selling worthless elixirs to cure whatever ails you – to the bomb shelter salesmen in the 1950’s and early 1960’s – to the cancer cures in Mexico – to the male and female “enhancement” products of today. There’s always someone out to take your money by playing on your fears – your fear of death, injury or that your not pretty or handsome enough – or that you’re not good enough.
The snake oil salesmen are alive and well and thriving on the Internet. Since almost no one understands the Internet these days, these snake oil salesmen can create dangers and threats out of thin air – spinning and weaving prevarications – scaring uninformed and misinformed users to ante up for protection.
We’ve allowed ourselves to fall into wanting others to protect us – to shield us from the dangers the lurk in the mysterious, and often misunderstood world of the Internet. Where we tend to take responsibility for ourselves in our every day “real” lives, we have come to a common mentality that software can save us from danger and or ISPs or email providers can shield us from nasty things we don’t want to see or read about.
But the biggest danger of all is the danger of allowing others to lull us into a sense of safety. We are falling into a trap so deep if we don’t stop and pull ourselves out of it soon, we’ll never get out.
We have many thousands of subscribers to our InfoAve Premium newsletter. Some of them also get the the Free version of InfoAve. So we often hear from those who get both telling us that the free newsletter always comes but the Premium hasn’t come in “X” number of weeks.
There is only one reason why this happens – and no matter how many times we tell people, they don’t want to believe what we say. InfoAve Premium contains five to seven times the amount of information as the free newsletter. Some ISPs censor your email by content. It does not matter that the content can help you be a better computer user and keep you safer while you’re on the Internet. It doesn’t even matter that you actually pay for the newsletter. ISPs who block by content (i.e. censor), don’t care because they trust software to know the difference between a good email and a dangerous one – and software, as smart as it seems to be, is nothing more than coding – it has no brain. It has no intelligence.
Naturally if we’re writing about spyware, malware, viruses, Trojans, worms, scareware, rogue security programs, phishing, identity theft, and so forth, we’re going to have to give examples and name names. And since InfoAve Premium has so much content (sometimes running more than 18,000 words) there is a lot of content that can trigger spam filters. So much content in fact, that the spam filters don’t even put the newsletter, it summarily deletes the newsletter from the server. You don’t see it; you’re not aware of it – and looking in your spam folder doesn’t do any good, because – according to your ISP’s spam filters, it was too dangerous to even trust you with it in your spam folder. It’s ridiculous, but unfortunately true.
Yahoo is one such presumptuous web mail provider whose spam filtering system (read: “censorship”) has run amok. It can’t tell a dangerous email from a helpful newsletter. So just about all subscribers who subscribe to our Premium newsletter using a Yahoo address haven’t gotten their newsletter in several weeks. It’s been sporadic – depending, I guess, on what was in the newsletter each week.
The reason why Yahoo and other providers get away with this is because users allow it – and users want it.
The same mentality that has allowed email censorship, in the form of spam filtering, to persist, has allowed companies like WOT to grow and prosper.
We have people write us all the time and tell us how WOT protected them from such-and-such a dangerous site – but the site wasn’t dangerous at all. WOT is simply a censorship tool that has grown into a force that will now be imitated by others. And soon the Web will be awash in “Opinion Toolbars” like WOT. And that’s all WOT is – an opinion toolbar. Where do those opinions of Web sites come from? Their community. A community they say which consists of “millions” of users – but which actually is about 100 people who have taken over the community by posting millions of site ratings — all based on their opinions.
WOT does not require community members to have any special expertise – someone who is new to the Internet could join and post tens of thousands of site ratings.
WOT exists and censorship of email exists because users cry out to be protected from the bad things on the Internet. But the protectors have become as deleterious as the things they supposedly protect us from.
If you as an individual, don’t stand up and fight against email censorship and “safe surfing toolbars” like WOT, someday soon, it will be too late. The success of email censorship – and of toolbars like WOT only breeds more censorship.
You can speak out on forums. You can write emails to your friends. You can campaign against having your emails censored by flawed software or the Web content you see filtered by a gang of unknown attention-starved community members – by letting everyone know how you feel.
You don’t tolerate someone censoring the books you read, the TV shows you watch, or the magazines you subscribe too. You don’t allow your neighbor to protect you and your family. You take responsibility for you and your family.
If you don’t start taking your responsibility for your Web life seriously – then email censorship and programs like WOT will continue to grow. And we’ll see more and more new snake oil salesmen creating new, unfounded fears – and offering you an instant remedy for it for just $49.95.
You can help stop censorship of you email – and you can help stop the spread and growth of censorship toolbars and programs like WOT. Or you can sit back and allow it to continue by keeping silent.
You can’t stop the scareware and the snake oil salesmen – but you can learn to recognize them when you see them. You can do this by learning and reading and researching; you can take responsibility for yourself by being as educated as you can about the Internet – or the Web – or the cloud.
It’s up to you. What kind of Internet do you want?