Pitfalls of the Internet

I submitted this essay for an essay competition for the Duquesne University Multicultural Junior Computer Academy and I won a scholarship to the summer program. April 23, 1998.

Pitfalls of the Internet

Carlos Macasaet
April 23, 1998

The Internet is a wide network of computers around the world. It allows many computers to communicate and share information, with few physical boundaries. It has become an integral part of today’s society. Today, almost everyone in the US can access the Internet. It is a valuable asset for people doing research as well as new form of entertainment for many people addicted to the world wide web.

With this great advancement in technology, many people are signing up for accounts with ISP’s and people wait in line at their local libraries, just to surf the web. The Internet has become so accessible and so high in demand, that now even pocket organizers come equipped with 33.6 KBPS modems so that people can connect to the Internet from any location in the world with a phone line. This new technology, however is not without its shortcomings. In fact people are constantly praising it, that they don’t always realize the pitfalls of the Internet.

Many people go on the Internet every day to do research or to catch up on current events. However, one must realize that no one owns the Internet and therefore it is difficult for one organization to control it. This makes it very easy for people to release false information and to spread propaganda, with almost no laws to stop them. Even though there are laws restricting people as to what may be posted on the Internet, the Internet is so large that no one can really enforce all the laws. It may take years for a government agency to find a site with illegal content. A government also cannot control a site s content if the site is located on a computer outside the physical boundaries of the country. Also, anyone wishing to spread a rumor can do so by e-mail and the false information will spread around the world like wildfire. Thousands of users logged into the Internet everyday access information via e-mail, newsgroups, world wide web pages and many other ways, but how much of the information they access can be trusted to be true. It has always been a good rule of thumb to only trust corporate or government sites, but what if it were them who also spread false information. And why shouldn’t they? They have nothing to lose by spreading rumors about their competitors, after all.

The Internet is also very large. Many people of many different cultures access the Internet for whatever their purposes. However because of the large diversity of these people, not everything on the Internet will be appreciated by everyone. Many people find some of the content of the Internet to be offensive. Whether or not the person who made the information available meant to offend anyone, or knew that anyone would be offended, it would be impossible to please everyone. If anyone wished to express their opinions, they would not be able to do so without offending anyone. Parents might not wish to allow their children to access the Internet only because of some sites that are offensive to them.

People who access the Internet often do so thinking they are secure. They don’t realize how much people really know about them. In order to best experience the site, users are asked to provide information, such as their names and addresses. Children often provide this information quickly without thinking. They don’t realize what the information is for and who else will see it. Even if people don’t supply such information, a site can gain a lot of information about them. To see just how much a site knows about you, visit the Anonymizer web site at http://www.anonymizer.com. When you access a site on the world wide web, you give away your IP address to the site. Your IP address is a unique number that identifies you when you are on the Internet. With this information, the site can find out your e-mail address, what ISP you use, where your ISP is located and some ISP s might also reveal where you re dialing from. With your e-mail address the site might target you with constant e-mail advertisements. Web sites can also send out cookies to your computer. A cookie is a small text file which can hold information about which sites you visit as well as any other information that you supplied or the site discovered. Malicious users might use your IP address to exploit security holes in your web browser or in your operating system. These often crash your computer and in some cases they can access information on your computer s memory or hard drive. A mistake that people often make is revealing their true identities. Even if someone does not have the know-how to discover information about you as mentioned above, with just your name they can find out a lot. They can use an Internet search utility that can find your address, phone number, e-mail address. Some sites will even be kind enough to provide a map that can show where you live. These people might not necessarily break into your house, but they can stalk you online. They might hang out in chat rooms that you frequent and constantly bombard you with messages. They can also continually send threatening or harassing e-mails to you. They can send millions of messages to your e-mail box and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. These people are cyber stalkers and even though there are laws against their actions, it is difficult to enforce them.

Although the Internet may seem perfect in today’s society, it isn’t. It has many downfalls that people overlook. Perhaps the Internet will evolve to overcome these problems, but of course some problems can t be solved. There will always be marketers, spies, controversial writers and people that society will scorn. We will never escape them. The Internet developed some of its pitfalls because it serves as a tool to aid these people . The Internet is free, it belongs to no one.

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