|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 89||December 20, 2002|
Because the future is uncertain, it can be helpful to look at possible alternatives through scenarios. In her fourth and final paper on the future of networking and communications, NetAction advisory board member Judi Clark explores four very different scenarios for the future of the Internet.
"Our Stake in Cyberspace" begins by examining intellectual property laws and common carrier regulations, two significant forces that have shaped the development of the Internet since it's beginning, and will continue to do so in the future. Intellectual property laws have an impact on content and common carrier regulations play a crucial role in access. Dividing these forces into axes produces four very distinct scenarios for the future of the Internet. Judi describes them as:
1) a "many-walled garden" network characterized by highly competitive, open content and restrictive access;
2) a "just route the bits" network characterized by open and available content on accessible networks;
3) a "you will" network characterized by monopolistic and restrictive content and access; and
4) a "10,000 Mickeys" network characterized by monopolistic and restrictive content and open access.
The four scenarios described in "Our Stake in Cyberspace" are intended to represent the most extreme possibilities; the actual future of the Internet won't look exactly like any of the scenarios but is likely to include elements from each of them. Exactly how much of each depends on many factors: designers and manufacturers of hardware and software, special interests like the recording industry, lawmakers and government regulators, and the millions of Internet users who have mostly been silent in the past. Given what's at stake, Judi concludes that Internet users need to break their silence to maximize the likelihood that the future Internet will be characterized by open and accessible networks and content.
"Our Stake in Cyberspace" is available on the web at: http://www.netaction.org/futures/scenarios.html.
For an index of all four papers in the Future of the Internet series, see: http://netaction.org/futures/.
The first paper in the series, "Networks for the Future: To .NET or Not," looks at two different models of networks: Microsoft's proprietary .NET and an alternative open network.
The second paper, "The Future of the Regional Bells," looks at what could happen to the four remaining, debt-ridden Bell monopolies if the growing availability of alternative technologies and networks continues to erode their revenues from traditional telecommunications services.
The third paper, "The World Beyond the Bells," looks at how wireless technologies have sparked an ad hoc social movement, and its impact on current and perceived threats to the Bell monopolies.
In the last issue of NetAction Notes we mentioned that one of the down sides to Internet activism was the flood of unsolicited commercial email that seems to be inevitable if you subscribe to an email discussion list, sign up for an action alert, or post comments to a news group or online forum. It's unfortunate, but if you speak out on the Internet you're more likely to be targeted by spammers.
NetAction's Virtual Activist training curriculum includes some basic guidelines to help reduce the flow of spam - such as using disposable email addresses and ignoring the "unsubscribe" instructions in spam that actually confirm that the message reached a valid email address.
If spam is only an occasional problem or you typically get just a few spam messages a day, this may be all you need to control the flow.
But if your in-box is regularly flooded with spam and you're not keen on ISPs that filter their customers' email, you might want to try a more aggressive anti-spam software tool. Two types of software tools may be especially useful. One lets you set up filters to divert spam before it reaches your in-box. The other lets you hide your real email address when you visit web sites that require registration, and may even help you figure out how your address got onto a spammer's mailing list.
Most popular email applications allow users to set up filters within the mail browser to direct incoming messages directly to specific mailboxes. Spam filtering software takes a slightly more aggressive approach by comparing message headers and content with a set of rules aimed at identifying known spammers, and authomatically diverting the suspect messages.
One example of this is the shareware program Spamfire (http://www.matterform.com). It's only available for Mac users at present, but a PC-compatible version is being developed. Spamfire creates a "Friends List" of the email addresses it finds in your mail browser's address book. When you filter your email, the program diverts messages from all other addresses to a separate server and displays them for your review. Users can "rescue" individual messages, add additional addresses and domains to the "Friends List," and tweak the filters to screen out more or less mail. Messages identified as spam never reach your computer.
A similar anti-spam tool for PC-users that works specifically with Outlook is SpamNet (http://www.cloudmark.com/). Still under development, this tool is an "add-in" that works in conjunction with Outlook 2000/XP/2002. (A version for Outlook Express is under development.) Messages from known spammers are diverted to a separate mailbox in Outlook where users can review them. Legitimate messages can be unblocked and moved to other mailboxes and the spam messages can be deleted. Any spam that is not identified and diverted can be blocked by the user and added to the database of known spammers so future messages from that sender go directly into the spam mailbox.
Filtering software tools like Spamfire and SpamNet won't eliminate the hassle of spam entirely since the programs rely on user reports to identify new spammers. But they will help you reduce the flow of spam without relinquishing control of all your email to filters installed by an ISP.
The second type of anti-spam tool is more narrowly tailored to prevent spammers from getting your email address from web sites. One example of this type of software is Spamex (http://www.spamex.com/). According to the developer, Spamex works with most operating systems and web browsers.
Working in conjunction with your web browser, Spamex lets you create a unique disposable email address whenever you're prompted to provide an email address on a web site. Email sent to your disposable addresses is forwarded to your true email address. If you find that spam is being sent to one of the disposable addresses that you've created, you can turn off that address to stop the forwarding. Email sent to other disposable addresses, and to your true address, won't be affected.
Additional resources for fighting spam include:
Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
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