The Evil Web?



A. Michael Noll

September 26, 2015

© 2015 AMN, blogged with the permission of the author.

A. Michael Noll

A. Michael Noll

Along with spam and the pirating of copyrighted material, the Internet has become a dangerous and evil place. The Web has become today’s electronic wild west with the piracy of copyrighted material, identity theft, privacy invasion, and voracious amounts of spam – to list some evils of the Web.

In early 2012, Federal authorities went after a Web site that was pirating copyrighted material. In retaliation to the closing of the site and the criminal charges, hackers attacked the Web sites of Federal agencies.

Anyone who purchases stolen property is committing a crime. But it is not just copyrighted videos and music that is being stolen much to the anguish of Hollywood and the music industry. Academics obtain “pdf” files of textbooks and make them available at university websites so their students do not have to purchase the books, in effect, robbing authors and publishers of royalties and income.

Computer and Internet security are big issues today. Web sites are penetrated, and personal information is stolen leading to credit card fraud and identify theft. Over a weekend in mid January 2012, online shoe-site Zappos was hacked, and millions of customers’ information compromised. In 2007, Alcatel-Lucent somehow loss a data disk containing personal information about all its pensioners. Viruses and spoofing all contribute to making the Internet a dangerous place.

In most cases, businesses that are hacked or that misplace disks clearly have not taken adequate security precautions. Consumers need protection – legal and technological — from the evils of the Internet and the storage of electronic information.

Decades ago I worked on computer security and privacy issues on the staff of the White House Science Advisor. I learned then that the best way to keep information secure was not to make it available over any kind of network. The best firewall is a disconnected plug. But if information had to be made available, in as few cases as possible, then encryption was the best form of protection. There also had to be a need to know. Somehow all this advice seems to have been forgotten and ignored by many Internet sites.

There are other sensible protections. Customers should be given an option as to whether personal information is stored or not. The personal information that is stored should be on a separate computer that is not accessible over the Internet. All information – not just credit card information – clearly should be encrypted, with passwords and keys strongly protected. Audit trails are needed so that any penetration can be quickly determined and documented.

Today’s Internet crooks work from home or cozy offices – hacking their way into various web sites, spoofing legitimate web sites, stealing identities, pirating copyrighted material, and spamming the universe in promotion of whatever they are selling. And since each crime and each few bits of information seem insignificant, the Internet crooks get away with it. And, meanwhile, the Internet community at the slightest mention of any controls pleads about keeping the Internet free and open.

In mid January 2012, the Internet community – led by Google – mounted a massive campaign against the legislation that would have placed some limits on the Web. The claim was made that any such legislation would be censorship. However, Google and other search sites routinely determine the order of listings – and even what sites are listed – in effect, acting as the censors.

So what all the hoopla really is all about is who should set the terms of censorship – industry (which is guided solely by making a profit) or the government (which might more likely be guided by protecting the public and intellectual). A solution would be for search engines and Internet service providers to offer users the option to impose censorship and the terms of that censorship on sites.

In the end in 2012, Congress caved to all the pressure from the liberal Internet community – the White House had already fallen under the influence of Silicon Valley. And so any legislative protection died – and the Internet remains free and open – a lawless and dangerous place.

The Internet and Web are no longer new and innovative – electronic information, data communication, and the packet switching of the Internet are all relatively mature technologies that have been available for decades. If the Internet and Web community are not able to police and control themselves, then the only other option is government control and policing. Hollywood learned long ago that it was far better for it to police itself than suffer government regulation. One option would be for Internet access providers to offer a censored and protected level of service.

It is clear that the authorities do not seem willing – or able – to do much to stop all the evils of the Internet. Perhaps the time has come for a group of Internet vigilantes to patrol cyberspace to protect copyright, eliminate spam, and attack the servers of the Internet spammers and crooks.

A. Michael Noll is Professor Emeritus of Communication at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, and a Quello Research Associate.

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Journalism, Freedom of Speech, and Hypocrisy by Avshalom Ginosar


There are moments in which the “world” stands together; I mean the democratic-liberal world and all those in other parts of the globe who wish to join the democratic-liberal part. The three terrorist attacks in Paris were one of these moments. It is understandable that everyone felt sympathy for the victims and their families. However, the terrorists in Paris did not murder only innocent people; they severely injured two of the fundamental values of the democratic-liberal world as well: freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Therefore, it is obvious that millions demonstrated not only to express their grief and anger, but to support the preservation of these two values.

One way to express this support was the publishing news of the first front page of Charlie Hebdo, following the massacre in its office. Every novice journalist and even every freshman in journalism studies understands that the publishing of this story and the new cartoon of Mohamad by Charlie Hebdo was a news-event that professionally was worthy to be published. Furthermore, the publishing of this story was the ultimate way to demonstrate that the terrorists did not succeed in murdering the democratic value of freedom of speech. And indeed, many newspapers, TV channels, and news sites all over the democratic world and beyond published the first page with the new cartoon.

However, it was not the case in the UK; most of the British media decided that the new cartoon is not publishable.* Why? The editor of The Independent admitted that he simply was afraid. Sky News cut a live interview in mid-course, simply because the French journalist being interviewed raised up the front page of the Charlie Hebdo with the cartoon for the camera, The news anchor explained that they acted in this way in order not to offend their audience. I cannot find other terms to describe these two decisions in the British media, other than to note the hypocrisy on the one hand and a retreat from a core journalistic code that is central to the role of a journalist on the other. The worst thing is that such behavior encourages the extremists and sends the message that terror is rewarding.

Here is the link to the interview stopped on Sky News:

And here is the link to the interview with the editor of The Independent

*Articles about the coverage by British media and their justifications can be found at: and

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Censoring of Sensoring by Michael Noll


It seems that nearly every physical object either has a sensor, or soon will. And that can lead to censoring by government or by us.

The tires in an automobile have sensors of the tire air pressure, which is a good thing since it informs us when the tire needs more air. Sensors also inform us when the tire has worn enough to need replacement, and that too is a good thing. However, when the tire information is transmitted to a tire store that then attempts to make a sale that can be an invasion of privacy. When the car transmits information about where it has been that also raises questions about invasions of privacy.

Light switches are accessible over the Internet and thus have sensors as to whether they are on or off. Thermostats that are Internet accessible sense room temperatures. When hacking occurs there will be risks to our homes, and also to our privacy.

Even people have sensors of body temperature and heart rate. Drones are multiplying and are being use to track us and potentially invade our private lives.

One potential problem is that sensors can lead to censoring if government gains access to the information. There also is the risk of self-censorship in what we say and where we go.

Where will this fascination with sensors lead? What crises will be created and will they be sufficient to halt the progress or create adequate protection and limits? How much censorship or we willing to accept in return for the benefits of sensors?

Michael Noll

Quello Associate and Professor Emeritus of Communications, Annenberg School at the University of Southern California

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