Bye Bye My Internet Superhero

We hardly Knew Ye

Francis Vale


The Internet is now on my top ten list of things that soon has to go out of my life, along with bad Jay Leno monologues and artery clogging Crispy Cremes. On a daily, nah, make that hourly basis, the Net brings me spam, viruses, snoop programs that want to watch everything I type, and oh yeah, porn, lots of porn. Don't get me wrong porn lovers, but how many offers of Free Barnyard Sex! can you handle in a day? Even Ferdinand the Bull would be wasted.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Internet was the poster child of the 90's, promising fame, fortune, truth, beauty and the end of oppressive regimes worldwide. If there were a problem anywhere on the planet, the miraculous Net would fix it. Global hunger? Here, have a byte of a Happy Meal. Disease? Gone in the flash of a blinking modem. Poverty? Wiped out with E-cash. The Net was the electronic incarnation of the ultimate superhero.

But then came the dot com bust, the great 401K meltdown and all the rest of the bad news, and the Net now looks more like a defeated and once cocky boy wonder, rooting about for a bandwidth handout in the digital back alley dumpsters. And there are lots of low life vermin who have no problem with helping this poor sad sod get another foul drink from the garbage-choked T3 pipes.

All out range war has consequently broken out between the no-guilt-gene junk mail spammers and the Net vigilantes who are self-righteously determined to clean up virtual Dodge City and its teeming hucksters, licentious libertines, and bunko artists. The e-bullets are flying so thick in this spam corral shootout the friendly fire is as bad as the bad guys' incoming.

Did you know Yahoo is on a spammer blacklist? In the anti-spammer's bit-bible thumping zeal to root out and crush Internet evil, almost anyone can end up on the wrong side of this net gang who couldn't shoot straight. E-mail from your mom may be blocked from reaching you because the originating system has a unique IP address identical to one that has been blacklisted as being a source of hated spam. If your mom unwittingly uses the machine of an ISP that also has a customer on it who sends spam, then that system's address is blacklisted, right along with all the otherwise nice and friendly town folk's outbound e-mail, including your mom's. Worse, it may be a clever digital tracks-concealing spammer who is not even a customer of that ISP. It's the equivalent of torching the entire digital village to win the war.

And if the hapless ISP doesn't don a Net vigilante deputy badge and swear an allegiance oath to the anti-spammers to immediately boot offending spammers off his machine ranch, well then, by golly, that ISP is going to be strung up feet first, too. You are either with us or agin' us, pardner. At this rate, cyber boot hill is going to be filling up awfully fast.

This range of offensive-to-our-vigilante eyes-behavior also includes shutting off otherwise honest SMTP (e-mail) anonymous relay hosts, maybe one owned by your business, whose masking features could be exploited by spammers trying to hide their true identities. Your plea of “I didn't do nuthin'!” is the very thing that gets you hung. The list of Net treason crimes goes on and on, which means sooner or later, almost anyone can get trapped in this Net vigilante tar pit, like Yahoo. So now, in addition to having to download my daily antivirus update, along with my almost daily download of yet another Microsoft security patch, I have to be sure to e-mail duck and cover when these so called white hats come thundering into my ISP's town.

If only that was the end of it. The Net is turning out to be the ultimate way to peep into your private life. Do you have a personal video recorder plugged into a phone jack or a broadband connection? Then don't be surprised if every coach potato channel click you make isn't being surreptitiously recorded on some far off network server. All your viewing habits and other personal information may be being sold off at a profit to a smarmy marketer who in turn is selling your private life to an even slimier e-mail spammer, which in turn begets the wrath of the Net vigilantes whose holy terror in turn comes crashing down on your e-mail head, thereby culminating one hugely vicious cycle.

Ahh, the Internet. We hardly knew ye—before you turned around and bit us in the ass.

Francis Vale, Copyright 2002, All Rights Reserved

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