E RADAR's Will Roebuck looks at five of the most important Internet urban myths that have teased our common sense over the past few years, and sets out to debunk them... in true Will style!
1. Al Gore invented the Internet
There are actually two myths relating to former US Vice President Al Gore. The first is that he invented the Internet; Second, that Al Gore ever claimed to have invented anything.
In March 1999, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviewed Gore ahead of his 2000 US presidential campaign. Answering a question on what he would bring to the table, Gore replied
"During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system."
Gore had phrased his response badly. He had never meant to take sole credit for the creation of the Internet. But critics quickly leapt upon his gaffe in order to discredit Gore's presidential ambitions. His words "invented the Internet" would be repeated in nearly 5,000 news stories and countless late night talk show monologues during the campaign.
While Gore did popularize the phrase "information superhighway" and supported early high-speed network legislation, the men traditionally credited with "inventing" the Internet are Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn. Sir Tim Berners-Lee is credited with being the inventor of the world wide web.
2. The Internet is a lawless 'Wild West'
The rise and rise in cybercrime and Internet trolls has helped sell the myth that the Internet is a lawless free for all, a new 'Wild West'. According to world cyber security expert Eugene Kaspersky, online fraud is costing the global economy "many times more" than initial estimates of losses of $100bn (£62bn) a year. The co-founder of Kaspersky Lab, an anti-virus software firm has said that the amount stolen from banks, financial institutions, companies and individuals could be at least double the $100bn estimated 4 years ago.
But there are international conventions and rules in place to help police the Internet. For example, the Cybercrime Convention is the first international treaty on crimes committed via the Internet, dealing particularly with infringements of copyright, computer-related fraud, child pornography and violations of network security. The Convention also contains a series of powers and procedures such as the search of computer networks and interception.
And whilst some may think it's cool to use social media to name the victims testifying in criminal proceedings against the order of the court, they should think again! Gemma Thomas, and eight other defendants were each ordered to pay a victim £624 in one of the first cases of its kind, after they admitted revealing a victim's identity on social networks.
And, even if you think you are sitting anonymously in a cyber cafe using a multi-shared computer, the chances are that you'll still be on camera.
3. You've no right to privacy once online!
Not according to the European Court of Justice.
In June 2014 the Court passed a landmark ruling against Google Inc which upheld the “right to be forgotten”, a new legal principle already set out in the draft EU-wide Data Protection Regulation. The ruling sparked major controversy over how to balance freedom of expression and public interest with rights to privacy.
Since the judgment policy makers have accused Google of misinterpreting the European court’s “right to be forgotten” ruling by deleting links to apparently harmless news articles in a bid to whip up anger against “censorship”. What's clear is that the right to have your data removed from the Internet is not an absolute right. Government ministers have always argued our privacy rights have limits, including British Home Secretary David Blunkett at the time he was introducing mass email surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
Under the 'right to be forgotten' ruling requests to remove data must be dealt with on a case by case basis. Data need only be removed where information is no longer necessary or is irrelevant. The judgment undoubtedly creates a major commercial headache for online companies that rely upon the collection of our personal data to sell advertising space, products and services.
But, there are bigger issues at stake. An individual's choice to go online should never give organisations the automatic right to market products and services to them without their consent. Where personal information is shared, including after the individual signs terms and conditions giving consent to do so, there has to be a point when consent can be withdrawn and personal information not used anymore. Facebook, for example, should delete old user accounts and not simply disable them on the basis that the user might just want to come back.
4. Internet Service Providers track your every move
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) simply don't have the time, resources or inclination to track your every move on the Internet. If there's no legal requirement to do it, they won't.
Don't get me wrong. Your ISP does have the ability to track your every move. They are your local link to the Internet. Every page request you make and every email you send must travel through your ISP's routers first. They can scan and save every piece of data that flows through its networks.
Under European law ISPs must retain all communications data for a period of 12 months, just in case it is needed by law enforcement agencies. But, companies such as BT retain this data anyway for their own practical business purposes - not for mass surveillance on what you are doing on the Internet.
And it's not just a question about retaining your data. The ISP would then have to interpret it. This usually means relying on costly management time to review what's been retained. Post Snowden revelations about government monitoring and today's sentence on ex-Downing Street media advisor Andy Coulson for phone hacking, you can be sure that privacy campaigners and the general public simply won't put up with mass online surveillance.
5. The Internet is full of sexual predators
— Will Roebuck (@ERADARtweet) July 4, 2014
Not the easiest part of this article to write. No loving parent (or decent human being, come to that) wants to see a child harmed in any way, online or offline. But, I will try to address the issues here with some sensitivity based upon practical knowledge, having spent four years in my early career prosecuting paedophiles.
Fact is, sexual predators have always been around us, although thankfully they're in the minority. But this still doesn't stop us casting our suspicions upon anyone we don't know who merely smiles at a child or offers them a sweet. The media and press are partly to blame for flogging those nasty headlines which always sell news. But then, we've also got ourselves to blame for too often believing that what's written online has to be true.
According to a recent report by David Finkelhor - director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, the Internet hasn't created a new kind of child predator. Instead, the Internet has provided a new medium for an old phenomenon: adults looking for underage sexual partners.
The NSPCC reports that UK Police recorded over 23,000 sex offences against children aged under 18 years in England and Wales between April 2012 and March 2013. We are unable to quantify whether these offences has some kind of 'Internet element' attached to them. Even if all of them did have such a link to the Internet, you still have to compare this figure against the 36 million adults (73%) in Great Britain who accessed the Internet every day in 2013, according to the UK Office for National Statistics.
The cyber world is an extension of the real world. So, we should apply the same common sense. We need to educate parents, grandparents, guardians and other responsible adults about the inherent dangers of the Internet to children, and what they can do to protect them.
And we're doing our bit too. E RADAR's Dr Daniel Dresner will be talking to the parents, governors and teachers of Shepley First School about Child Internet Safety on 10th September 2014.
The event has been organised in association with the South Pennine Group Women's Institute.
We look forward to seeing you there.