Can We Stop Asking For A New Internet?

from the chicken-little dept

For the past few years, we've seen story after story about scrapping the Internet in its current form and starting anew. Most of the impetus for this comes from the unwanted aspects of the Internet - spam and security flaws, mostly. Now, John Markoff has a lengthy piece in the New York Times asking "Do We Need a New Internet?" The story is worrying both because it suggests the trend is gaining momentum and because Markoff does such a half-hearted job of questioning the premise.

To be fair, the Internet certainly has its flaws, and there is nothing wrong with researching ways to improve it. In fact, it is something we should encourage. The problem, though, comes from the breathless style in which so many of these stories are written. By inducing FUD in the general population, it increases the likelihood that people will shift to closed systems without thoughtful analysis of what will be lost. As Jonathan Zittrain explained in his recent book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, a shift away from open, generative platforms will decrease peoples' abilities to innovate widely and inexpensively. The fact is, by trying to stop people from doing certain things (spamming, for instance), any new network's architecture will have unintended consequences that will preclude all sorts of future innovations. As Techdirt contributor Tim Lee has noted, open platforms are perpetually in peril, but they have the benefit of flexibility and adaptation by virtue of their decentralization; this provides for long-term stability and security.

And, finally, all this talk about a "new" locked down Internet seems to leave out the most important point: there's no evidence that any users actually want such a new Internet or would switch. We've had locked down systems (remember AOL?), and people went to the more open Internet. And they did so for a very good reason. For all the dangers of an open platform, it also gets all the benefits of rapid innovation.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 4:18am

    We're not sure how to run this one yet

    In particular, what we haven't (as a community) figured out how to do is to deal with people who allow their systems/networks to emit abuse -- or who deliberately do so. Yes, some individuals and some organizations have effective methodologies for this, and they've been shown to work, but they've not been adopted widely enough to effectively deal with the problem(s).


    I suppose another way of putting this is: we don't need a new Internet, we need people to step up and take personal responsibility for what they're doing to the one we have. And if they won't, then we need a mechanism to isolate them and thereby minimize the impact.


    (In case it's not clear, I'm talking about spam and its multi-protocol variants, DoS attacks, etc.)

     

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  2.  
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    Matt, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 5:15am

    Fine for private industry to use ...

    It wouldn't fly with the general public, if the many porn users knew they weren't anonymous maybe a third of them would quit searching, the industry would fail and many porn stars would be out of business. Isn't the economy bad enough already?

     

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  3.  
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    Haywood, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 5:22am

    They will craft a plan to bail them out

    The affirmative action President won't let them down.

     

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  4.  
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    Haywood, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 5:27am

    I hope they leave well enough alone

    I don't like spam or hacking attempts any more than anyone else, but I've learned to live with it. I don't like the fact that being bombarded with ads & muggings are a fact of life on the streets, but better that than marshal law.

     

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  5.  
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    jonnyq, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 6:13am

    There are legitimate reasons we should rethink our email system. I don't have perfect solution better than anyone else's, but it should be possible to build a system where you only receive email from people you want to with the better system for approving the people you don't know. Right now, we have "From" addresses, and sure, you could choose only to accept people in your address book, but there are flaws with that.

    Our domain name registration system is retarded. The fact that companies tend to buy pretty much any TLD that looks like their trademark shows a flaw in the system, and the only solution anyone has is to open up more TLDs, which just means that those same companies pay *another* $10 a year for their new TLD. It's a silly system.

    There's a lot of the Internet that works great, and it's mostly modular enough that the broken parts can be replaced without scrapping the whole thing. (However, the slow adoption of IPv6 shows how hard some parts are to replace.)

    It's possible to fix these parts that cause security and annoyance problems. That doesn't mean creating an AOL-style Internet - saying so is just FUD. Thankfully the stuff behind the curtain could be fixed in such a way that the average user doesn't notice.

     

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  6.  
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    chris (profile), Feb 16th, 2009 @ 6:37am

    fuck john markoff

    this article is like all his others: sensationalist bullshit.

    "OMFG teh internets are going to kill us all!!1!"

    with what? botnets? viruses? spam? *yawn* that's all old news. i'm surprised he didn't blame kevin mitnick for everything that is wrong with the world.

    he only made one good point: "For all those efforts, though, the real limits to computer security may lie in human nature."

    at least he got one thing right: there is no patch for human stupidity.

    and the technical details are sorely lacking. news flash: IPv6 is not a new internet, it's an update of the old v4 protocol to accommodate the proliferation of internet connected devices. of the problems that face any project, ones of scale due to your runaway success are the nicest ones to have.

    the only reason people want to scrap the internet and start over is because it's too hard to censor and police. there is a reason for that: it was designed that way.

    the internet is not safe for decent people. it never has been and it never will be. to paraphrase the joker "decent people shouldn't use the internet, they would be happier something else".

    instead of trying to shoehorn the internet into cable television with a buy button, why not build the techno-peasants a network with padded walls and training wheels and rubber bumpers and government monitors and corporate handlers?

    that way we can stop trying to make the internet into something it's not capable of being.

    if you want a trustable network, use a managed service that is walled off from outsiders, like AOL used to be, or xbox live or MMO's are today. you know, the locked down applications that are being railed against in "the future of the internet and how to stop it"
    http://futureoftheinternet.org/download
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7UlYTFKFqY

     

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  7.  
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    ehrichweiss, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 6:38am

    Yes, we DO..

    We absolutely need a new Internet except this time we need to prevent Eternal September. Educated users will prevent the mess we're in right now. When we first started out there were people to mentor us in the internet's use but that structure is massively weakened today since 99% of everyone here is a dipshit who doesn't know that opening attachments from strangers is bad, AND those same people will claim to be experts and spread bad information on top of it all.

    Remember the recent post about people preying on people being dumb?

     

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    Ray Trygstad, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 7:38am

    Didn't we try something like this already?

    As I recall, it was called something like "AOL", and everyone with any grasp of what the Internet ought to be pretty much universally agreed that it sucked.

     

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  9.  
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    Ray Trygstad, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 7:38am

    Didn't we try something like this already?

    As I recall, it was called something like "AOL", and everyone with any grasp of what the Internet ought to be pretty much universally agreed that it sucked.

     

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    Jack (profile), Feb 16th, 2009 @ 9:02am

    multiple nets would be best

    just as we have dif classes of drivers licenses why can't we have dif classes of internets? class 1 gets you in a private car, class 2 gets you n a private car and a motorcycle, class 3 gets you in a car you can drive animals in and well you get the idea? some of us are quite happy to merely use the net as a social gathering and yes we do make mistakes by opening the wrong emails, it is our nature we're human demmit. does this mean we are open season for internet bullies to spam and send out viruses that eat up our low powered pcs? oh i am so sorry the internet is the playground only for the techno savvy. what about us who do not get our cookies off from seeing others in pain?
    give us something to choose from and not just one highway to play in. some of us enjoy a country road.

     

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  11.  
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    batch, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 9:36am

    just say no

    Why give up anonymity for "security" which would not work anyway? People are falling all over themselves to give up rights for what they believe is security, when in facts its just a reduction in your privacy without any improvements/ two steps backward.

    Not like it would work anyway; the world governments, or isps of the world working together on coordinating the switch to a new system? thats laughable. Also, who will fund it? oh right, no one will want to. Even if it can utilize existing hardware, no one will want to change all the software/firmware

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 10:08am

    Re: We're not sure how to run this one yet

    In particular, what we haven't (as a community) figured out how to do is to deal with people who allow their systems/networks to emit abuse -- or who deliberately do so...
    (In case it's not clear, I'm talking about spam and its multi-protocol variants, DoS attacks, etc.)


    See the problem? As soon as you want to start talking about abuse, you have to define it. And I notice that you can't even provide a concise one (I'm referring to the "etc." part you had to include).

    Now you want to use your definition, but others are going to want to use the own definitions. What about spreading porn? Kiddy porn? Islam? Jihad? Fundamentalist Christianity? Scientology? Racism? Etc.? Is using the internet to promote these things "emitting abuse"?

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 10:22am

    Re:

    There are legitimate reasons we should rethink our email system. I don't have perfect solution better than anyone else's, but it should be possible to build a system where you only receive email from people you want to with the better system for approving the people you don't know.

    What you're asking for is a system that can read your mind and know what you might be interested in and save you the trouble of having to decide for yourself. Good luck finding that. The closest thing to it is what Bill Gates, government bigwigs and other who can afford it use: they have "people" who go through all their email for them and forward only select messages to them. The same system also works for their postal mail, which is why there are no laws against junk mail (because it isn't a problem for the people who matter).

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 11:21am

    Re: Re:

    No, I'm asking for an actual system that confirms the senders that you receive from where it's easy to confirm new senders and isn't too much of a burden. Still a tall order, but not impossible.

    We can already verify From addresses against an address book, but From addresses are easy to spoof. Maybe a combination of From address and originating server would work. Just saying that it's possible, and there are better methods than what we have now.

     

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  15.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Re: We're not sure how to run this one yet

    I didn't attempt to define abuse in that message, so I think it's rather silly to critique it for lacking such a definition. I've done so at length elsewhere (considerable length) so I don't see a need to go into it in depth here. But I'll give you one: spam. The correct, canonical definition of spam in the context of email is "unsolicited bulk email". That definition has served us well for nearly three decades -- even predating the slang term "spam". Now, it doesn't cover all forms of email abuse -- but it isn't intended to. It does, however, cover the one that's the largest, most persistent and most troublesome.

    And one of the critical points about it -- which relates to the laundry list you provided -- is that it's content-blind, as it must be of course. (This is why the occasional misdefinition of spam as "UCE" must be rejected on inspection.) There's no need to ask whether it's porn spam or Christian spam or racist spam or even null-content spam -- it's quite clear it's abusive no matter the content.

    Similar definitions exist for spam in other contexts (e.g., Usenet, blog comments, etc.) but of course spam is just one form of abuse. DoS/DDoS attacks are another. Viruses/spyware/trojans/etc. are another. And so on. In none of these cases is it necessary to resort to anyone's sense of what they find offensive or unwelcome; objective metrics exist, usually with broad consensus, by which to measure them. (To put it another way: a 50Gbit/sec SQL injection attack is abusive no matter what's in the queries.) The key point is that "abuse of the Internet" refers to abuse of its constituent systems and networks -- none of which have your sensibilities or my sensibilities or anyone else's: they're just infrastructure.

     

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  16.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    This problem is much, MUCH harder than it appears on the surface, which is why all attempts at "e-postage" systems have been total failures -- and why, barring some very-much-unforseen developments, all future ones will be too.

    Consider: The Bad Guys are currently the de facto owners of at least a hundred million botted systems -- some reliable and experienced observers think the number is 2 to 3 times that, but nobody who can be taken seriously thinks it's less. That means they're also in possession of all the email credentials (server, username, password triplet) stored on those systems, or which have been used since they installed a keystroke logger. Given that many people now have a home email account, another for work, perhaps a freemail one or two, etc., it's not unreasonable to posit a value for "compromised accounts" in the 500M range. And this is before we get to all the compromised accounts picked up by other means, e.g. phishing, sniffing, brute force attacks, judicious guesses, security holes on mail servers, etc.

    There is no way to discern "a message sent by Fred using Fred's account and password on example.com" from "a message sent by The Bad Guys using Fred's account and password on example.com" in the general case. Yes, sufficient diligence on the part of example.com might eventually uncover a problem, and yes, you might be able to conduct header analysis to figure out that something's odd -- but of course if Fred's own system is being used to do this that's going to be a non-trivial exercise. (And even if it's not, it's STILL not very easy even in isolated cases. It's intractable for 500 million.)

    The point? As I've said elsewhere, spam is not the problem. Spam is merely a symptom of the problem. The real problem is underlying weak security on hundreds of millions of network endpoints. Until that's fixed, everything done at the network level is a bandaid, no better. And this is not, per se, an Internet problem -- it's an operating system problem, so that's where the fix needs to happen.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous12, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 2:47pm

    Considering that corporations now think it's a good buisness model to spy on what you surf about, I say hell yes.These companies claim that it's "all good" even though the protocols that make their networks worth ANYTHING were government (and therefore public) works of origin. It's really sickening. YES on net neutrality. That means I am FOR government regulation of what were esentially publically founded networks, and NO that doesn't make me a socialist. CORPORATIONS THESE DAYS SUCK.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 6:13pm

    Re: fuck john markoff

    Chris -> "instead of trying to shoehorn the internet into cable television with a buy button, why not build the techno-peasants a network with padded walls and training wheels and rubber bumpers and government monitors and corporate handlers?"

    That is really funny - and so true.

    If you do not like the intarwebs, then go elsewhere. Maybe there is a market, but if AOL is any indication, I think not.
    Just remeber, it is not a big truck

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 7:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: We're not sure how to run this one yet

    I didn't attempt to define abuse in that message

    Then what was that "(In case it's not clear, I'm talking about spam and its multi-protocol variants, DoS attacks, etc." bit?

    I've done so at length elsewhere (considerable length) so I don't see a need to go into it in depth here.

    Well, if you're going to talk about "abuse" then I think it's important to define it. If you've got such a good definition then why not post it?

    it's quite clear it's abusive no matter the content.

    How is it so "quite clear" if you won't even define it?

    There's no need to ask whether it's porn spam or Christian spam or racist spam or even null-content spam -- it's quite clear it's abusive no matter the content.

    You know, most attempted definitions of spam that I've seen depend on the content, usually something along the lines of the content being of an unsolicited commercial content. So already you're out of line with most.

    Similar definitions exist for spam in other contexts (e.g., Usenet, blog comments, etc.) but of course spam is just one form of abuse.

    No matter the content, huh? OK, I'll bite: What's the difference between an abusive blog comment and a non-abusive one?

     

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  20.  
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    nasch, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 7:26pm

    Bad assumption?

    It seems like the assumption is that we have two choices: the wide-open network of today, or something controlled top-down from a central authority. I think where the internet will go is toward giving more and more control to end users. By using new protocols and security techniques, I'll be able to decide what my internet looks like.

    We're already moving in that direction IMO with things like AdBlock, NoScript, and spam filtering. I don't think we'll see a revolution, it will just be better and better technology all the time, put on top of the excellent foundation of TCP/IP and HTTP. I think SMTP will probably die off at some point, but it's going to take a good long time probably. I've never heard of any viable solution to the spam problem using SMTP, and it costs us (everyone) too much time and money to go on unsolved forever.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 7:33pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    No, I'm asking for an actual system that confirms the senders that you receive from where it's easy to confirm new senders and isn't too much of a burden. Still a tall order, but not impossible.

    You asked for a system where "you only receive email from people you want to". You also seemed to object to having to identify those people yourself when you said "you could choose only to accept people in your address book, but there are flaws with that." Now, I presumed you were referring to any white list, not simply one titled "address book" because it would be trivial to change the title if that is your only objection to that approach. I gave you a little more credit than that.

    So basically the question is, how would an automated system know who you wanted to accept mail from if you didn't tell it unless it could read your mind? The human personal assistants that people like Bill Gates use are expected to be familiar enough with him that they can guess what mail he wants and what he doesn't. In other words, they can read his mind for this purpose.

    In the end, what you are asking for exists today, just not as an automated system. All it takes is money and you too can have your very own "people" to filter stuff for you.

     

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  22.  
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    Harold, Feb 16th, 2009 @ 10:58pm

    Not worth the effort

    Nothing is perfect. Nothing will ever be perfect. If humanity started over every time something went wrong with a plan: we wouldn't have internet, we wouldn't have cities, we wouldn't have technology at all.

    There are problems with the internet. However, there are just as many problems with real life. Porn on the internet? Well there's porn in real life. Theives and charlatans on the internet? They exist in real life. You don't want terrorist types using the internet to plan potential attacks? Well, they'll either meet in person, use phones, or if they had to, they'd use post.

    Nothing on the internet is new: not spam, not lying, not cheating, not pornography, not child pornography, not planning with unlawful intent. There is no "new" internet that can change that. People will always find a way to do what they, for whatever reason, need to do.

    The internet is not this ugly Gotham-esque sinfest. If it were, it wouldn't hold interest for the common user. The common user who checks the sports scores, reads their email, catches up with friends on Facebook, and keeps up with current events.

    Certainly, this person receives spam, but most of it is ignored or deleted. Certainly this person will occasionally unleash a virus on their system, but it will get fixed. Certainly, porn and violence are things parents don't want their children to see, but these things exist in abundance outside of the internet, and can be held in check with moderate supervision.

    The internet isn't broken. There is no need for panic. There is no need for alarm. There is nothing to fix. To lay waste to something that is helping to positively change the way humans interact with one another on a global scale, even if it's to "make it better", we set ourselves up for failure when there is no reason to do so.

     

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  23.  
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    chris (profile), Feb 17th, 2009 @ 6:55am

    Re: multiple nets would be best

    some of us are quite happy to merely use the net as a social gathering and yes we do make mistakes by opening the wrong emails, it is our nature we're human demmit. does this mean we are open season for internet bullies to spam and send out viruses that eat up our low powered pcs? oh i am so sorry the internet is the playground only for the techno savvy.

    i agree totally. it's totally unfair to discriminate against someone based on their skill level.

    i played a couple of flag football games in college, i don't know why i'm not allowed to play in the NFL. sure i can't run very fast and i can't throw a football very far, but i'm human demmit.

    there is all this talk about "my safety" but really, if the league is too dangerous for non-professionals to play then the league and the game should be changed to let couch potatoes like me have a fair chance.

    also, i completed a CPR course, i should be allowed to practice medicine as well. again, that discriminatory "safety" issue keeps coming up. i'm human demmit! i want to be a doctor like on gray's anatomy.

    what about us who do not get our cookies off from seeing others in pain?

    the internet is serious business.

     

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  24.  
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    Slackr, Feb 17th, 2009 @ 2:29pm

    As much as the 'bad guys' make life difficult for us, most of this site is devoted to pointing out innovation and find alternative models that work despite opposition or change. Without the 'bad guys' life would be easier on the internet but would we end up with the same amount of innovation and improvement?

    I love this statement too: "there is no patch for human stupidity". People have been suckered since the dawn of time, are we really that surprised it happens in cyberspace too?

     

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  25.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Feb 17th, 2009 @ 3:01pm

    A new internet

    The problem I have with this is that it sounds too digital ("pegging" on one extreme or the other - what we have now or some (assumedly) terrible system that is not what we have now.
    So, buggies work, why should we have automobiles?

     

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  26.  
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    The Truth, May 7th, 2009 @ 11:23pm

    Try this on

    They are already pushing this through. They'll stage some sort of terror attack and label it a national hazard and push it through.

    Cmon people, we don't own this country anymore. The bankers do.

    Here's Jay Rockefeller stating his cause.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8PCmLPPVnA

    Also, check this out (This is really crazy but true)
    http://thetruthfulpatriot.blogspot.com/2009/04/matrix-and-federal-reserve.html

    Time to open your mouths if you like your internet. Otherwise, it is soon to end and be controled, taxed and infiltrated like our lives are to become.

    I know, it sound crazy right? Look at my links and use the internet while you still can. There is a reason they are shutting this pig down. and it's not for any reasons stated above...

     

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  27.  
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    CB, Mar 29th, 2010 @ 7:11am

    Re: multiple nets would be best

    No. Learn to drive a car before you push the gas pedal. Learn the nature of the internet, how to protect your computer and identity, before opening your browser. Using "I'm only human" like "I'm a moron, sorry but deal with it" is a thin excuse. "I'm human" also means you can reason, learn, and adapt. Try it.

     

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