Friday, May 28, 2010

What Do You Think?

Writing on a blog is like screaming into a void. You never know who hears you. And until Myspace got really riddled with viruses and spammers, I maintained a blog there. I liked posting whatever wierd thing came into my head. And I had a loyal following of fringe dwellers who posted their own comments and usually made me laugh. I've missed that. And I miss them.

It's strange how we build our own little worlds out here in cyberspace, finding "like" souls in the cybersphere. And it makes me realize how small the world can be when I hear from readers across the planet, as if they're right next door. On the Internet, there are no international borders to guard or customs to go through when you reach out and touch someone. That part of the Internet is definitely cool, but other parts make me wonder what the future holds.

Criminals and predators have found a whole new hunting ground. And in the anonymity of cyberspace, they've found a new virtual world to commit their crimes. With people relying more and more on computers to transact business, it makes me leary of how secure our financial information is, for example. I don't mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but how safe are we online? Every time we post pictures of ourselves or post personal messages that give away where we live or where we'll be on a certain day, that can be an invitation to someone with a criminal deviant mind.

I hear more and more about cybercrimes happening all the time. As an author, these things intrigue me and can become future story lines. And of course, there's nothing like firsthand information to make my books seem real. For example, I had my credit card information stolen after I went to a local restaurant to have dinner. Someone hacked the system and had my credit card info posted online for purchase to the highest bidder before I got my first billing. The credit card people closed that account and I didn't have to pay for the items these criminals had charged, but did they get caught? I'm convinced the credit card companies see this kind of thing a lot. And the odds of people getting caught and prosecuted are slim to none. Whatever losses the credit card companies incur are absorbed by them, but ultimately paid by the consumer through their increasing fees.

Bottom line is--it's a scary world out there. And we all have to be more careful in the digital world. Everytime I hand over my credit card, I wonder if the person behind the counter is trustworthy. And the doctor's office clerk who asks for my social security number, can they be trusted not to sell my information to an identity thief? It makes me a little sick to realize how guarded and paranoid I've become. I hate that. And I sometimes explore these new threats in my books, trying to expose how significant this new criminal hunting ground has become.

When I was in Washington DC last year, doing research with the FBI, CIA, and the State Department, I found out that the U.S. Postal Service has investigators who may be given the authority to "police" the Internet. Usually criminal activity involves the mail service, so that's the logic behind them being in charge. Of course, with the Internet being global, they will have a hard time crossing over jurisdictions so I don't see this as an easy job.

But what do you think about someone being responsible for "policing" the Internet? Do you see it as a threat or a help? If they instituted more rules to monitor activity or charged fees and forced people to identify themselves (taking away the anonymity), would you think that's a good thing or bad? This is a HUGE topic to cover and there is no easy answer, but I'd love to hear what you think.

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