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Digital Content, Online Security & Privacy, Representation on the Web

The ease with which digitizable material may be disseminated has inescapable consequences for the creators and rights-owners of such material. That which may be digitized may be copied and re-copied an unlimited number of times without degradation and may now be distributed, digitally, by anyone, from anywhere, to the world. National copyright legislation is struggling to catch up with the technological reality of the information age, and in any case such efforts may be in vain given the ease with which digital content may be switched from server to server, from one side of the globe to the other, in seconds. The Internet is effectively beyond any individual government's control.

The rise of the Internet has also witnessed the development of the open source software movement. Open source software is made freely available by its creators for others to use and modify as they see fit, with the caveat that any modifications made also become open source. Quality open source products include the Linux operating system and It is interesting to observe that in the educational world the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology is making its course materials freely available under its OpenCourseWare pilot.

Alongside the open source movement, software and other digital material piracy has thrived. Latest versions of top software programs and new releases from major recording artists are available for free but illegal download shortly after (or even before) they arrive in the shops.

In the extreme there will be no incentive for the production of creative or intellectual property other than the kudos of doing so. Alternative scenarios include the free dissemination of content as a marketing tool for charged support, content producers being remunerated by high volumes of micro-payments, or global laws covering the transmission of bits from, to and via anywhere. Aside from the unlikelihood of the required universal cooperation required for the latter, even if it were to exist there remains a question over the practicality of enforcing such laws given the widely distributed nature of the Internet and the availability of peer-to-peer technologies such as Napster, which enable thousands of users to share the contents of their hard disks with one another.

Security & Privacy

E-commerce currently offers secure server and encryption technology as a solution to the security risks associated with transmitting data through Cyberspace. Encryption involves encoding information into a form that only the intended recipient can interpret. The commonly used public key encryption involves two keys for each user; a public one, made freely available, and a private one known only to the user. Sensitive information (e.g. a credit card number) is encoded using the intended recipient's public key before transmission, even if intercepted by a hacker it is thus useless without the corresponding private key [Whittle, David B.; Cyberspace: the human dimension; Freeman 1997].

Whilst it is certain that security technologies will continue to improve, it is at least, if not more, important to reassure consumers that the online transactions in which they are engaging are secure. An informative and easy-to-read explanation of a site's security features forms an important part of its promotional strategy.

Every Internet connection may be used just as easily to transmit as to receive, and the audience of any such transmission is, potentially, the world. This dictates the need to be more rigorous in evaluating the integrity of information found on the Internet compared to more traditional sources.

The ease with which individuals may represent themselves misleadingly also gives cause for concern. Before entering a credit card number consumers demand reassurance they are dealing with a legitimate supplier that will meet its side of the bargain rather than a confidence trickster operating an online fraud. Digital certificates, issued by a trusted third party, may provide authentication of an online trader's identity.

Consumers are likely to be more willing to deal with well-established names, either those with a familiar physical presence or with everyday names such as Amazon, or with companies at the very least having a physical presence from which damages could be sought if the transaction is not fulfilled satisfactorily.

Closely related to the issue of security is that of privacy. The process of requesting and storing personal information is one where the interests of site providers and visitors are seemingly at odds. Web users are naturally concerned about the potential invasion of privacy associated with providing information online. Visitors to bricks and mortar stores are not asked personal questions when making purchases, let alone browsing. The provider wishes to gather data to more effectively understand his visitors. This may be for purposes of providing more appropriate content or displaying targeted advertising. Some e-tailers, such as Amazon, are able to make recommendations based upon customers past purchasing patterns.

The inability of individual governments to control the Internet means the medium is used to disseminate unsavory material such as pornography, racial or religious bigotry and libelous statements. It is also used as a communications conduit with relative impunity by criminals, terrorists and others with less than wholesome motives.

Representation on the Internet

Some products cannot be represented in Cyberspace as effectively as others. Books, CDs, software and travel sell well across the 'net because the customer has a clear idea of the nature of the product. Frequently authors publish sample chapters of their books on the web, and MP3 song samples are a common feature of online music stores. Goods such as clothes and audio equipment fare less well because consumers like to experience them (by trying them on or listening to them) before buying.


© from Web to Wealth ( 2017