Dave Masters aka webman@althits.com

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Call to Arms: Webmasters Take A Stand Against CyberCrime and Abuses

We live in an electronic age. Corporate America desires to exploit the power of the Internet in any way possible at any cost. There was a time when webmasters found it hard to make a living building Web sites for corporate America. Now it's easy as printing an invoice. You can pretty much name-your-price and they will pay it IF you do whatever they want.

I've heard it all. They want you to write a cookie to their hard drive and track their shopping habits. They want to extract as much information as possible from every machine that comes within a click of their site. I've been asked to retrieve information from their hard drives! And finally, there comes a point where I have decided to say, "No."

It is difficult for a webmaster, who is trying to make a living and support his family, to turn away corporate cash. When it becomes difficult for me to tell the difference between a commercial Web site and blatant cybercrime, I have to make a judgement call. Webmasters walk that fine line, on the front-line and are the consumers' last defense against what would otherwise be considered a breach of security.

As much as we hate to see governement legislating and dictating appropriate protocol via the Internet, what will it take to achieve a more responsible attitude toward the Internet? Just like photo-processors are required by law to report any photographic material that might be construed as pornographic child exploitation, we are beginning to see that same legislation pass in regards to webmasters. In many states, it has already passed, and it is likely that the others will follow suit.

As webmasters, we have the ability to put a halt to the abuse, before it happens. Corporate greed will always be asking, Can you do this, or that? Believe me, I know that it is not good enough to reply, "It's not a matter of can you -- but should you?" They don't care about ethics. All they want to know is how long will it take to implement the borderline-cybercrime-code and, "How much do you want," for doing it?

Webmasters are constantly doing a balancing act between accessibility and corporate desires. The technology is there, so corporate America wants to exploit it to its fullest potential regardless if their site can be accessed by users with disabilities, or not. The United States government has taken a stand to make all of its Web sites accessible to everyone. I feel that this is step in the right direction.

I don't think that we should make it illegal to retrieve data from users, as long as they are notified ahead of time, of the type of data being tracked or retrieved, agree to letting the information being used for the purposes disclosed, BEFORE any data retrieval occurs. Some sites, like Amazon.com, track users (and non- or potential- users) and use the information for their benefit... IMHO, this is borderline unethical behavior. I can see tracking Amazon.com customers - with their permission to do so - but to track non-users, so that they can be influenced to become users (making anyone a potential user), is a bit beyond what I would consider ethical Internet protocol.

I've made a personal committment to take a stand against what I deem as unacceptable Internet protocol. I will not extract private information from a computer's owner - simply because they landed on a page within some greedy SOB's Web site - from who knows where. "If that's what you want, then go elsewhere." And they do, after mumbling something like, "Then, what's the point? Why be on the Internet at all, if you can't retrieve sensitive information?" (That's their mentality.)

I bumbled across a Web site with lofty morals and an attempt to take a higher road. The site is named CyberSpacers.com and although its target audience is Cyber-kids, I was intrigued by the attempt to put the responsibility of ethical Internet usage back in the hands of its users, no matter what their age. They use Super Cyber Heroes and weekly comics to convey their strong message in a hip way to youngsters.

CyberSpacers of all ages are encouraged to take the oath and join the team, in an effort to encourage ethical behavior in much the same way as the Boy Scouts of America use different methods to influence CyberSpacers to do the right thing.

CyberSpacers has had the forethought to have an opportunity to welcome webmasters to join the team by adhering to their Webmastering Code of Ethics -- Now, there's a novel idea! (I suppose that's the point that really drew-me-in...) They even offer their own weekly comics as free content to webmasters who desire to take the high road.

I was so jazzed that there was someone out there with a similar mind-set, that I immediately contacted CyberSpacers.com in an effort to team up with other webmasters who had a similar set of ethical standards. Guess what? There aren't as many as I was hoping there was, which leads me to believe that if other webmasters don't jump on the CyberSpacers.com bandwagon, it will end up belly-up.

I don't really have the time to launch my own, personal, campaign for ethical webmastering, but wish I did. In an effort to support such an organization, I welcome your email, with your thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our part to make the Internet a better place. Send your comments and suggestions to webman@althits.com and let's all do what we can. I'm convinced that any effort, no matter how small, is a worthy one as we quest for the higher road.

If you have any suggestions for this area, questions about ethical webmastering or Web site design, please feel free to email me at webman@althits.com or give me a call at WMI at (360) 538-9916.

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