@Info.Policy: Future history reports on Internet's demise

Robert Gellman

This obituary is 'preprinted' from a future edition of Government Computer News.

Today the Internet was pronounced dead. The immediate cause of death was universal disinterest.

For decades, the Net had been a free and open network that allowed anyone to send e-mail, publish information, provide services or sell products. Internet fever fueled a stock market boom in the 1990s that made startup companies into household names. Then huge losses resulted when business dried up from declining Net use. The Internet auction business finally disintegrated because of persistent fraud.

There were many contributing causes to the Internet's death. Viruses, worms and government filters were some. Other factors included:
  • Phishing. Phishers, or cyberthieves, pretended to be trusted service providers in order to induce people to disclose personal information for use in identity theft scams. Phishers duped hundreds of millions of people. Legitimate companies suffered because many consumers, unable to distinguish the real from the fraudulent, ignored all commercial e-mail and Internet activities.

  • Spam. Despite worldwide efforts, governments could not stop unsolicited e-mail, which became the overwhelming majority of all e-mail messages. Several members of Congress who touted legislative solutions were defeated for re-election when disgruntled Net users held them accountable for the failure of their legislation. Another spam victim was the Federal Trade Commission, which Congress abolished years ago in frustration over the commission's inability to protect consumers against spam and Internet fraud. One beneficiary was the Postal Service, which boomed when regular mail came back into vogue.

  • Spyware. Keystroke loggers, browser hijackers and other forms of spyware did considerable damage. Browser hijackers changed settings, sent users to porn sites and prevented normal browser use. Some people lost jobs or went to jail because of child porn or classified materials placed on their computers by hackers. Some employees refused to use computers connected to the Internet for fear of losing their jobs.

  • Advertising. An escalating war between pop-up ads and ad blockers raged for years, with the ads always one step ahead. Aggressive adware also contributed to declining Internet usage as people often could see nothing but ads.

  • URL redirection. Hackers became adept at pointing browsers to their own sites, and users couldn't tell whether they had reached the correct uniform resource locator or a copycat site. Search engines suffered from redirection and became significantly less helpful.

The Internet is survived by wholly private networks and e-mail systems.

Like gated communities, they offer some traditional Internet functions, but at a stiff price.

Private networks aggressively authenticate users, check e-mail and scan attachments. Most allow access only to accredited sites and send e-mail only to and from authenticated accounts.

All network activities are encrypted to guard against interception and hijacking. Most Web sites are open only to paying customers because of the costly, weekly re-accreditation mandated by private networks.

The Internet is mourned by all those who now pay higher prices for fewer services.

Robert Gellman is a Washington privacy and information policy consultant. E-mail him at rgellman@netacc.net.

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