Internet Concerns & Issues


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Frequently Asked Questions

Can I trust what I see on the Internet?
Should the Internet be regulated?
What can be done to protect children?
Is the Internet resilient?
Can other people read my email?
Can I send email anonymously?
Is it safe to give my credit card details?
Can I pay for things over the Internet?
Can I catch a computer virus from the Internet?


Can I trust what I see on the Internet?

In general, information found on the Internet is as reliable as information anywhere - it depends on the credibility of the organisation providing it. But because of the nature of the Internet, where anyone can publish what they want and no-one validates it, much of the material tends be quite subjective and sometimes wrong. Unless you come across a site which is deliberately trying to pretend it is written by someone else, the concern might be that the information, even from a credible provider, is up-to-date and of a reasonable quality.

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Should the Internet be regulated?

The Internet's "content" cannot be regulated in the way that the editorial content of a TV station might be, material posted on the Internet cannot be regulated in an editorial sense any more than the content of a phone call - it has to be dealt with through the law and the courts. Most undesirable traffic, e.g. child pornography and other criminal or antisocial uses, is already illegal.

This content can be dealt with by a combination of appropriate anti-crime measures coupled with well-orchestrated market responses - for example voluntary codes of conduct policed by trade and industry associations who award complying suppliers with "safe to use" badging. Service providers are developing rules of conduct for different sectors. A subscriber who breaks the rules of a particular service can have his or her subscription cancelled. Market forces may determine what is "desirable" or otherwise to particular sectors of the community, since a service that provides or freely allows "undesirable" content or conduct will have fewer subscribers than one that offers the most widely acceptable mix.

The Internet Watch Foundation has set up a hotline and is implementing proposals agreed by the police, the government, and the two major UK service provider trade associations, ISPA and LINX. Safety-Net (http://www.ispa.org.uk/safetynet.shtml) addresses rating, reportingand responsibility for Child Pornography & Illegal Material on the Internet

See also the Campaign Against Censorship of the Internet in Britain (http://babylon.ivision.co.uk/)

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What can done to protect children?

Access by children (or other vulnerable persons) to so-called "adult" or other materials that the child's "responsible adults" might not wish the child to see can be achieved by other means, leaving the child with unconstrained access to the Internet as an important part of their learning,

Although some say that children should only have access under supervision, this may be impractical in many homes and even in some schools. There are two ways that this could be implemented. We need both more discussion and more technology before deciding the best way to handle this, meanwhile the onus is on responsible adults to manage the problem in the way of their choice, as is the case with childrens' access to "undesirable" television programmes.

There are a number of products which attempt to control what information may be accessed, although if you want to have tight control on what's available on your computer, your strategy will probably use more than one of these devices Top

Is the Internet resilient?

If an organisation takes on the use of the Internet then it will become, to an extent, economically and socially dependent on the reliability of services.

The Internet may be inaccessible either due to a loss of telephone communications or through technical problems at the service provider end, or, in the very competitive area of service provision,
service providers may be working in a financially unstable state and simply fold.

A simple (but not yet available) solution is an industry managed "safety net" approach, where arrangements are put in place for customers of a failing service provider to be switched gracefully to another service provider. Service providers would have to subscribe to a mutual fund to cover the costs of such provisions.

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Can other people read my email?

Yes, but it is unlikely to happen. Your service system administrator could read your mail, but probably has codes of conduct which forbids them doing this. Someone with enough technical knowledge could intercept messages on the Internet, unless the messages are encrypted, but it's not likely that they'll come across your message.

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Can I send email anonymously?

Yes. To do this you'll need an anonymous remailer. The most common of these (anon.penet.fi) has been closed down due to legal problems in Finland, but there are other still around (see Yahoo). The Samaritans reply to encrypted or anonymous emails.

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Is it safe to give my credit card details?

Not entirely (see Can other people read my email?), but it is no more dangerous than giving your number over the phone to a credit card hotline, or in a shop where someone could write down your details. Ask yourself whether you trust the company you are sending the information to, and remember that it works the other way too; they don't have your signature to check you're not sending incorrect details.

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Can I pay for things over the Internet?

Other than using your credit card, not yet, although Netscape are the first with secure HTTP (you can see the key symbol on the bottom of the web browser screen). Digital cash, where clicking what you want to buy automatically transfers money form your bank account, is also being developed.

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Can I catch a computer virus from the Internet?

If you transfer a file to your computer, then yes, it's possible that you could be hit by a virus. This might be a web page or a file from an ftp site. It's best to ftp from reputable ftp servers, and to use virus checking software regularly.

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