The Press published a series of articles about the Internet between July 31 and Dec. 15, 2014. They addressed several issues, such as privacy and the U.S. government’s plans about the future of the Internet. These subjects will not be revisited in this series. You can find them in the Press archives at cdapress.com.
This article is the first in a series of 10. They are written for an individual Internet user, as well as for companies and other enterprises. Those organizations with an IT department likely have staff members who are familiar with much of this material.
However, even corporate giants have thought they were attuned to Internet issues, only to find themselves out of touch and sometimes in dire straights. They ignored some simple procedures that would have protected their systems against intrusions that compromised their operations.
With these thoughts in mind, we begin this series with a subject that is increasingly drawing the discontent of Internet users: unsolicited advertisements intruding onto user screens. At first glance, this irritating feature might seem to be a relatively minor nuisance. It is that and more, because it also deals with the issue of who controls our Internet sessions.
Postal mail falls, email rises
The use of first class mail in America is declining rapidly. In 2000, the U.S. Postal Service reported it handled 102.4 billion first class pieces. In 2014, that figure had declined to 63.6 billion. In contrast, business email traffic is growing. According to the Radicati Group, a research firm, 100 billion business emails are transmitted every day on the Internet. That figure is predicted to increase to 132 billion by 2017. (Personal email use is declining as non-business consumers move to texting, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media.)
Some futurists predict first class postal mail will become so expensive that its use will become insignificant, confined to a limited population (likely government-subsidized) who do not have access to the Internet. If this situation comes about, online correspondence will become the only viable, inexpensive way to exchange business and personal correspondence.
The questions are: Do we want to live in a world in which we have no control of our user screens? Do we want to be held captive to an ad we cannot remove while we are in need of screen space? Will we continue to tolerate an ad that is placed in front of our own content to the extent we are forced to be idle?
When the Internet was first created, no advertisements were interspersed into an Internet user’s traffic. Later, as the computer industry migrated to the use of screens (instead of hard copy), there were still no ads pasted into the user’s screen. Initially, the fledging Internet was run by the federal government which did not allow commercial traffic of any kind.
Obviously, times have changed. Advertisements have become so common that some Internet vendors view the system as nothing more than an advertising medium.
Problem is worsening
The lack of users’ control over their screens is becoming more pronounced. When I log on to my email account and open a window to key-in text, my part of the screen is frozen until another part of the screen that is reserved for advertisements has been activated, and has sent me unsolicited ads. After a few seconds, the Internet provider frees up my keyboard, and I can enter my mail in a template located on the left side of my screen. During this time, ongoing advertisements are playing on the right side of my screen.
David Pogue, in Scientific American of January 2016, states: “…79 percent of the time it takes for a news Web site to load on your phone is waiting for the ads to arrive.” Imagine the lost productivity that comes with this model! I occasionally glance at these intrusions and vow to forego buying any of the peddled merchandise.
How much time do these ads waste while an employee or contractor is putting in paid time at the office? I suspect the figure runs into many millions of dollars.
One solution is to install an ad blocker. As one example, Apple now supports ad blocking apps for its mobile devices. If you are interested, ask your software or hardware vendor about this package, or surf the Internet for offerings.
The inevitable question arises: How are the Internet vendors going to fund their websites that we visit to get news and other necessities of life, as well as to satisfy our entertainment fixes? The answers to this question are (a) some vendors already derive income by capturing data about users and selling it to others; (b) many Websites are free anyway; (c) the Internet has been commercialized so why not set up a system in which users pay vendors for the “luxury” of having their screens free from advertisements?
Answer (c) is a contradiction to Net neutrality, as this approach is counter to having a classless, egalitarian Internet. One part of Net Neutrality is: Do not allow users with deep pockets to pay their way toward obtaining better service than less affluent customers.
To compound the problem, some sites have installed blockers that block ad blockers. Other vendors will not allow users to access their sites if the users have ad blocking software installed on their machines.
Problem won’t just disappear
Many users of the Internet do not understand these arcane issues. Nor should they be asked to know about them. They should have assurances that the soon to be pervasive email, texting, and tweeting services of the Internet will provide the safety, security, privacy, and fairness that has been provided by the devolving U.S. Post Office. The likelihood of online correspondence being given the same privacy and respect as conventional mail is akin to demanding companies such as Google cease doing what allows them to exist in the first place.
Therefore, the growing nuisance of intrusive, unsolicited ads is only the beginning of the Internet losing its neutrality and an associated degradation of the quality of service. It is possible, despite the Net neutrality advocates, that pricing mechanisms will come about that allow users to open up their wallets to keep ads off their screens.
If the Internet evolves in a manner similar to the examples cited in this article, to whom will my Internet service provider give preference during periods of high activity: Uyless Black, a single citizen? Or, say, Apple, a Fortune 500 company? My wallet is not as thick as Apple’s.
What is the answer? Is it the strict enforcement of the idea of Net neutrality, where all users are equal and deep pockets cannot buy privileges? Or should the Internet model itself reflect free market doctrines: You get what you pay for?
To address these questions, we examine the issue of Net neutrality. We’ve skirted around the subject thus far, obtaining enough information to deal with the subjects of intrusive advertisements and screen control. The next article delves into Net neutrality in more detail.
Uyless Black is an award-winning author who has written 40 books on a variety of subjects. His latest book is titled “2084 and Beyond,” a work on the origins and consequences of human aggression. He resides in Coeur d’Alene.