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Some Internet Predictions

by: Cary Christian


I'm going to try my hand at some predictions for you today.  I've talked in recent weeks about how the Internet is changing, so today I want to give you a brief vision of one possible version of the future Internet.


There are a number of problems driving the changes that are taking place.  Here are a few along with changes that are likely to occur:


1.  The problem of U C E, aka spam.  This is the major problem in most people's minds and the one that has the most potential to impact you in your online business.  People who do this for a living are getting better at it all the time.  Various states have passed laws against it, ISPs have developed more and more sophisticated filters, users of email are in an uproar, and still the problem continues to grow.  Spammers forge email headers, make their ads look like they come from YOUR domain, route their mail from countries where there are no laws to restrict spam and basically continue as they always have with no respect for the laws and no fear of being unable to get around the filters.


In the meantime, legitimate emails are a struggle to get through.  Get one false accusation against you and your domain and your business might be gone.  Email is in trouble.  The legitimate use of email by small and home businesses is on the critical list.


New federal legislation is imminent.  Expect it later this year and expect it to include criminal penalties.  Also expect it to be generally ineffective.  People are too creative with technology.  Criminal sanctions are hard enough to prove in the real world.  In cyberspace, it might be impossible to meet the criminal burden of proof.  There may be a few splashy arrests and convictions, but the problem will continue mostly unabated.


Changes that work will ultimately come from new technology.  The technology we use for email processing today must change in ways that thwart those who would spoof and counterfeit their way through the commission of anonymous irritations and crimes.  I'm not a developer myself, so I have no idea what types of technology changes this will require, but I'm told by those who know that it is a viable alternative.  It appears to me it is the only type of alternative that will work.  I'd look for it to happen in the next two years.


2.  Virus threats are becoming more and more sophisticated.  I was reading the other day about new viruses that are smart enough to recognize when they have infiltrated financial institutions and kick off subroutines to steal credit card and banking data.  That's tremendously scary.


This is difficult problem to tackle.  There are lots of effective antivirus solutions available, but they all have one limitation: they work off a virus database of EXISTING viruses.  New ones will cause a number of infections before antivirus software databases catch up.  But they do catch up and people and companies using antivirus software usually manage to either stay safe or eliminate the virus before it does much damage.


The REAL problem is that there are too many unprotected machines around the globe.  Each unprotected machine is a staging area for the spread of viruses or denial of service attacks to the rest of the world.  If every single machine used antivirus software solutions that were kept up to date, virus writers would have so little success that writing viruses might just become a waste of time in their eyes.  Here's to that day!


If people won't voluntarily adopt the use of antivirus solutions, including firewalls, then it should be forced onto every machine that connects to the Internet.  I believe this will ultimately occur.  Either the operating system on every new machine will contain antivirus solutions or ISPs will provide and enforce their use.


3.  The FTC is cracking down on deceptive selling practices online.  If you are selling the latest affiliate program and it is determined that that affiliate program is guilty of using deceptive practices, YOU could be liable.  By representing that affiliate program, you are perpetuating those deceptive practices.  You become both a victim and a defendant.


Even with the crackdowns, I see lots of people still advertising programs that will become obvious targets.  I suppose they are either ignorant of the crackdown or feel like it's a lottery: most people will get away with it while the "big boys" of deception will get prosecuted.


Well, it's important to remember that there are thousands of  law enforcement agencies in this country when you include state and local enforcement, and they are all getting into the act.  I predict that most deceptive affiliate programs online will disappear within a couple of years.  In the interim, thousands of people will either be subject to heavy fines or criminal prosecution.  This is real this time, folks!  Take it to heart.


So what does all this mean to you?  The answers are simple and easy so let's address what you should do item by item:


1.  Never, ever use spam in your business.  Never, ever buy anything from a spammer.  Follow all the rules of online email etiquette, i.e., never mail advertising to people who have not requested it, always provide an unsubscribe  link, never buy a list to mail to, and so forth.  Also, consider using other effective means of advertising, like PPC engines, and reducing your reliance on email.  If you find out someone has forged your email address or domain name, report it to your ISP so that they at least know you're not the one sending all that spam.  Being proactive will help.


2.  Acquire and use antivirus and firewall protection on your computers.  You can get them free so there is no excuse not to protect your machine.  If you need recommendations of where to find free solutions, just send me an email.  I'll tell you where to get them and help you get them set up.


3.  Never associate yourself with an affiliate program that makes unrealistic claims.  If you're not sure whether the claims are unrealistic, ask for help.  Again, email me if you have a question and I'll be happy to help you with the analysis.  Work on developing your own products so that you can control the claims made.  If you cannot afford a lawyer to help you put appropriate website disclaimers on your site, at least put in a thorough disclaimer or terms of service page and link to it from every page of your site.  You can build a nice disclaimer page and privacy policy page for free at the site listed as our featured resource this week (see above).


Do these few things and you will have accomplished a lot toward making the Internet a nicer place to work. 



(c) copyright 2003



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