The Flip Side of the Shiny Internet Coin

There are two sides to every coin — a good side and a bad side. One side helps you and the other side hurts you. The Internet is a great example: The good side lets you learn anything, about anything, anytime, any place. The bad side targets you with scams. They are running rampant, and there is not a damn thing we can do about it.

Have you recently received a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft offering to help you with Windows? These callers typically are very nice. All they want to do is chat and help you. All they ask is for you to download an app to let them do that. You may think, this is only Microsoft. Why not?

Once you download the app, it’s all over. Your computer locks up. Suddenly, the mask comes off, and this nice neighborly person turns into an ugly grinch! Now you’re told to pay up to get your computer back.

You may have encountered someone doing the same kind of thing but claiming to be with the IRS. The caller wants to help you pay less taxes. You’re asked a lot of questions — but hey, it’s OK. After all, it’s the IRS, right? Wrong! If you give away your personal information, that friendly caller will reach into your bank accounts and wring them dry.

Isn’t This Illegal?

How can this be, you may ask? Isn’t this illegal? Yes, it certainly is. However, the bad guys doing these things are not in the good old USA, so there is little we can do to stop them. They are sitting in some foreign country contacting us over the Internet. They don’t use the U.S. Postal Service. They don’t use regular telephone networks.

Rather, they use email and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). They are someplace else in the world, but it looks like they are calling from somewhere in the U.S. If you check your caller ID on your phone screen, you’ll see a name, number and city in America.

Many people don’t realize this, but when using an Internet phone line, you can program just about anything you want to pop up on the screen of the party you are calling.

If you’re lured into one of these scams, you’re screwed! This is the toxic atmosphere we live in today — the dark side of the bright Internet coin.

Internet Advertising Battle Is On

Here’s another issue: Internet advertising is a growing pain in the *ss! Years ago, we saw small ads that never got in the way. Fast-forward to today, and Internet advertising is full-motion video and audio, gobbling up loads of our costly bandwidth.

You know what I’m talking about, right? You may be reading a news story when suddenly the page splits open to play a full video and audio clip. Or perhaps you’ve encountered small moving screens scattered all over a Web page.

You think these annoying ads are free? They really are not. You pay. You get charged for bandwidth overages on your ISP Internet plan. So, wait — we are paying to get advertising that we don’t want?

First of all, what gives advertisers the right to distract us and cost us money? One thing to keep in mind is that in order for content to be provided for free, we may have to deal with the advertising that supports it. If Internet advertising more closely resembled the TV or radio models, it would be acceptable. However, it goes far beyond those simple approaches.

Year after year, Internet advertising gobbles up more and more of our bandwidth, costing us more money. Every month, it seems, many of us are billed for overages.

Perhaps we could live with the advertising clutter on our screen if the marketers would get their act together. If I want a quiet page, I should be able to get a quiet page. You’d think the ad community could figure out how to stop abusing users so we could live together peacefully once again.

Ad-Blocking Software

However, the problem appears to be getting worse, not better. In fact, it’s getting so bad that ad-blocking software is becoming very popular. Ad blockers protect your computer screen from becoming the advertising vehicle the ad community wants to turn it into.

Ad-blocking software is effective, but websites you visit can tell you are using it. Some of them ask you to turn it off. Some block you from seeing their information.

To make matters worse, some companies — like old fashioned newspapers and magazines — want you to pay them just to visit their site.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Users, advertisers and ISPs all have to deal with these thorny issues.

Users do not want to fight with their computers. They just want to get value and not get lost in the advertising whirlwind. After all, our computers are not advertising terminals.

One solution is to dampen advertising to the lower level that was common years ago. Good old-fashioned ads would not be as distracting or take up as much bandwidth.

Responsible advertisers simply want to get their messages out to customers. They don’t like all this ruckus either.

ISPs simply want to provide Internet connectivity to their customers — but as ads keep gobbling up data, somebody has to pay for it.

Who’s the Bad Guy?

If anyone should pay extra fees, it should not be the end user. Perhaps ISPs should provide unlimited connections or at least raise their limits. Advertisers want to reach customers, but they don’t want to be overcharged either.

What’s the solution?

Maybe it’s time for the stakeholders to sit down and hammer out some new, modern-day solutions to these Internet problems — from the rapid spread of creative new scams to the proliferation of annoying advertising.

Heck, if we invented the Internet, I think we can invent a solution to rein in the powers of the dark side, don’t you? We’ll either have to figure out how to do that or get sucked further into the Internet black hole, and that doesn’t sound appealing to me.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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