How to control your Internet experience

Free market: Rob Greenlee offers tips on dealing with spam.

How many articles and TV news reports have you read or heard about the problem of spam e-mail and inappropriate images popping up within your computer’s browser? Probably enough to make you an expert on the statistics.

A recent poll showed 96 percent of people who get e-mail said that either they hated spam or that it annoyed them; 84 percent said that all unsolicited commercial e-mails should be banned; and 83 percent said they believed that most spam e-mails are fraud or deception.

However, for all the complaining we do, how many solutions have worked? Can we rely on software or government officials to give us a break? Perhaps the answer is we have to own the problem and own the solution.

I recently got the following e-mail from Charles, a WebTalk Radio listener, that posed a very important question: “Do everyone a great favor and have a discussion on how the Internet is becoming nothing but a promotional site for commercials and porn…..I can’t believe all the trash that pops up on my young child’s computer and mine when I am trying to just do simple work….pop up programs don’t work and even when I’m not on the internet, I get pop -ps. My e-mails is nothing but sex, Paris Hilton’s video and Viagra, along with penis patches and creams…..this is getting ridiculous and our legislators and congressional people, along with the federal trade commission need to start taking action to stop the smut and commercialism that is taking over internet. Hell, I’m trying right now to look up information in the Discovery channel and getting pop ups that would make my older son blush…..honestly, this has to stop and maybe folks like you can get the word out for someone to put an end to it. Thanks for letting me blow off some steam.”

I cannot disagree with anything Charles said. The thing to keep in mind is that we are dealing with an Internet that is free and open to all forms of communication. It spans the spectrum of good and bad.

Freedom comes with a price I am sad to say. You can be assured that the market will, in time, take care of this when the outcry gets loud enough. There will come a time when we will see more regulation of the Internet. The question is can it be controlled and who will control it. Up until now it really has been the user who has had the responsibility to control their Internet experience. To a lesser extent, the Internet service providers (ISP’s) do what they can by blocking communication, sometimes including legitimate e-mail.
I still think that the user will always need to be able to control their own Internet experience. It is possible for you to do, but it takes research and becoming savvy to the tools and ways these spammers and virus writers operate. I don’t think we can rely on the U.S. government – or any government – to protect us online entirely. They move too slow.

The best advice I can give you is to do a search in Google and educate yourself by reading anything you can find on this subject online. We will work on getting guests on WebTalk Radio that can share more light on how you can better control your Internet experience as that really is your only defense for the short-term future.

Until recently, I made a conscious choice not to followed the basic rules to control my Internet experience. I have wanted to get exposed to the spam and pop ups so I could learn about it – call it “WebTalk” research. I decided about a month ago that it is time to implement the things that I have learned throughout my six years online to see if, in fact, it is possible to really control my experience with the Internet.

It is also very much time for me to change as it is in fact getting so bad that it is really having a significant impact on my time. I am getting bombarded with spam at a rate of 1,000 per day. I would say that spam is the most important thing for me to control and the second most important is pop-ups and third is trojans, worms and spyware.

Unsolicited e-mail – spam – require the most drastic action. Extreme solutions are to actually close your e-mail accounts or run all your e-mail through a third-party filtering software that is either installed on your computer or is provided through an online e-mail hosting provider. These solutions work fairly well most of the time. The “most of the time” part it the catch with this, as none are 100 percent effective at catching all the spam. The filters do sometimes block e-mails that you want to get, thus the dilemma facing all Internet service providers.

Here are some actions I plan to take:

1. My long-term solution involves a strategy that does not include filters on my primary e-mail address. I am planning on changing my e-mail address and sending my old address through a SPAM filter. I’ll make sure my new e-mail address would be protected from e-mail address harvesting online.

2. The best way to protect your e-mail address online is by not making it visible on Web pages as an active e-mail link. If you still want to get e-mails from your Website, you will need to use an e-mail form that uses a form-mail script in the Web page that hides your address and forwards the filled-in form text to your e-mail address. The Web page visitor cannot see your e-mail address, but they can still send you an e-mail. This is the number one thing you can do.

3. You also need to use a throwaway e-mail address that is going through a spam filter for submitting to various e-commerce and e-mail newsletter subscriptions. This will protect you from those greedy business folks that are try to make money from selling your e-mail address to big-time spammers.

4. There are some significant changes you can take to how and what you do online. It will also require in some cases a change your ISP and get your own domain name because e-mail addresses that come through @AOL.com, @Earthlink.net and @Comcast.net are big targets for spammers. They gather addresses dynamically and randomly generate the names in front of the @ symbol. However, if you own your own domain name, it is less likely that a spammer will target you unless you somehow give them your address.

5. The other major area is Spyware and Adware that are often running on your computers without your knowledge. Spyware programs track and report your computer use. Adware delivers advertising to you when you least expect it. You should download and install a free program called Spybot Search & Destroy on every computer that has an Internet connection. You can get it by going to www.safer-networking.org. You should run this program once per week to make sure your system is clean. You will need to download an update to this program every week.

Good luck and remember it is all a good fight.

Rob Greenlee is co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews. He is the husband of Dana Greenlee, who normally writes this column.

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