Exploring The Dark Side of Technology

Feelings are hurt and lives are ruined on a daily basis because criminals are taking advantage. They’re taking the very tools and technologies we have thought of as good, and using them to do great evil. Unfortunately, as the world’s reliance on technology grows, the dark side of technology grows along with it.

In 2009 alone, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 336,655 complaint submissions, which was ultimately a 22.3% increase from the previous year and a 571% increase over the previous nine years when the IC3 was first created. Just as bad, the monetary damages are increasing as well: nearly 560 million dollars worth, which is over well over a 200% increase from the previous year. Crime does pay, after all.

But increased crime alone is not particularly shocking, especially when considering that the Internet is constantly growing. The thought that crime is easily transitioning to the Web and is appealing to would be criminals, however, is fairly eye opening stuff.

But before we delve deep into the issues with serious crime on the Web, why not take a look around today’s Web communities to see the type of behavior we see on a regular basis. It’s quite telling.

 

Anonymity

It’s ironic, really. If there is one thing we can attribute a growing tendency of bad behavior on the Web to, it would have to be anonymity. The very thing that allows journalists in media-censored countries to deliver us the truth is also the reason why you see a slew of expletives-loaded comments on most YouTube videos.

It is quite disheartening to visit flourishing online communities and realize that even a handful of people that are up to no good can ruin it for everyone. One recent and memorable example is when Engadget turned off commenting for their entire blog simply because a few people insisted on attacking the authors and other users — thus punishing everyone for the actions of a few.

Why does this happen?

Then again, perhaps it is merely the thought of security — meaning that some people believe that anything they say online can’t possibly come back to haunt them in the future.

Regardless of the cause, which will not likely be resolved anytime soon, it is the result of this behavior that should have people concerned — people are more likely to be jerks on the Web. But being a jerk isn’t a crime, at least in most cases. But it is this very tendency that I believe will fuel the fire for technology-related crime in the future.

However, something must be said with the development of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which promote public interaction with peers. Facebook, in particular, because of its requirement for users to use their real names. And Twitter because it gives people a public identity that requires a bit more responsibility — that is, if you tick enough people off, your follower count and influence will possibly drop. So maybe these social networks will promote better mannerisms on the Web. But I feel that many should be skeptical.

In the end, however, some people are brave enough to do even far worse things that have far more consequences:

 

Fraud

Fraud is the most popular crime to occur on the Web, according to IC3’s most recent report (PDF). Overpayment fraud, advanced fee fraud, credit card fraud, auction fraud, and the typical e-mail fraud is all stuff we have to watch out for. This type of activity is more likely to be effective against older people and those less tech-savvy than most, although anyone is susceptible to this crime.

 

Identity Theft

Something else we hear about so often is identity theft. In a digital age when you are asked to hand out your personal information more often than ever before, it is no wonder why people can sometimes slip up and hand their information over to people who might abuse it. Sadly, it has been coming to the point where identity thieves are coming after users: be it an e-mail, a phone call, a text message, or a website that is trying to get you to hand over personal information.

 

Non Delivery/Payment

Bought something cool on a new website and anxiously waiting for it to arrive — bought it a month ago and still waiting? Might be time to file a claim. Nearly 12% of all claims that come to the IC3’s attention involve non delivery or payment of a purchase or sale. So you might want to rethink what you are buying and who you are buying it from.

 

Piracy

Regardless of what you think about piracy, there is something wrong about someone that creates a piece of content and doesn’t get compensated for it. After all, some of the things people produce require weeks, months, or years to develop.

While the damage claims of piracy are widely debated, there can be no arguing the fact that piracy has serious financial impacts on certain industries. The problem is that it is seen as no big deal for someone to jump on Limewire and download that latest Timbaland track that everyone’s playing. There is, for the most part, no consequence for doing it (unless someone receives a letter in the mail from a lawyer).

 

The Rest

Of course, there are far worse crimes that take place online. Some even lead to deaths, which is truly sad. Then there are other crimes that are growing in popularity but we don’t hear about too often. Finally, there are minor crimes that take place all the time that have little or no repercussions at all.

What it all comes down to is the fact that technology is being abused at a growing rate. Thousands are out to do evil. Millions are unprepared. Billions eventually will be affected. And everyone has to be willing to accept the fact that things will get worse before they get better.

But it just has to make you wonder who is going to take up the task of handling all these crimes? Will a true international Internet-based police force ever be created who’s sole activity is to monitor illegal activity on the Internet? Who would fund such a project? Who would maintain it? How would other countries comply? How will privacy be impacted?

Interestingly, as technology-related and virtual crimes increase, violent crimes in the real world continually decrease. Violent crimes has been decreasing consistently since the early ‘90s. Yet one must wonder if one violent crime is worth the potential for hundreds (even thousands of virtual crimes) by the same person.

So while it might be a bit safer to walk down that dark alley at 2 AM in the morning, be sure to watch out for the numerous opportunities that bad people on the Web have to do bad things. It will still hurt, regardless.

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.
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9 Comments »

 
#1
chrispc88
June 30th, 2010 at 1:25 am

Let me guess, you think that Net Nuetrality can save us from these horrible atrocities? Don’t let fear mongering trick you in to supporting ANY bill that would restrict the one last best hope for free information. Our president has even stated that there is just too much information that can be confusing. Stop progressivism, they will take away more freedom than you can ever imagine!

I wonder, will you stop comments on this story for some that may disagree with you?

 
 
#2
Laura
June 30th, 2010 at 4:11 am

This was a really interesting read – its always good to remind people that the internet is not such a safe place after all and that we should all think twice before handing out information, or about bad-mouthing a site and/or its users. I suppose if we all thought “Would I say/do that in a face-to-face interaction?” before we hit the submit button then we’d all be just a little bit safer.

Is that true? That globally violent crime has fallen while internet crime has risen? Crime over the internet may still be a horrible occurrence, but if 10,000 internet crimes mean that 1 single human life is saved, then I see it as the better of two evils.

 
 
#3
Jo Dean
June 30th, 2010 at 6:19 am

Wow, aint that the truth. Well done dude.

Lou

 
 
#4
Ben
June 30th, 2010 at 6:38 am

Regarding piracy, while it is true that all piracy will have some financial impact on industries, it is nowhere near what the industries actually claim. A great counter-point to music piracy is that if someone downloads the new album and enjoys it, they’re very likely to see a concert/show of that artist/band locally, and to also support that band by buying merchandise. In another way, it gives the average teenage consumer without much money to spend more in their pocket that they may be willing to spend on merch like t-shirts, other CD’s of theirs at the show.

Another reason music is pirated over buying it online is because of quality for some people. Most of the people who I know definitely prefer the highest possible quality with the lowest possible space taken, aka formats like FLAC and APE, or other lossless codecs. A 192 kbps just won’t cut it, and even 320 kbps is pretty low in the end. If you have the space on your drive for high quality music, why the hell not have it sound the best possible?

 
 
#5
Latz
June 30th, 2010 at 6:43 am

the only thing I to which take issue with this article is a lack of a much needed distinction that is almost always failed to be made in discussing anything about any type of technology — this article is about people not technology — it’s about what people do with it — so any malice or naivety on the part of the culprit or the victim has nothing to do with technology in any sense — therefore there is no sense in naming this “Exploring the Dark Side of Technology” …. Technology has no dark side …

 
 
#6
terminaldummy
June 30th, 2010 at 7:50 am

This article is absolutely terrible. A perfect example of sensationalist tripe.

 
 
#7
Satya Agraha
March 8th, 2011 at 2:41 am

Well since learning that the Stuxnet virus was a US/Israeli-created virus designed to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, I guess it’s safe to assume the most dangerous cyber terrorists are working for the US Government.

 
 
#8
Damon June
March 9th, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Amazing how the the increase in the yearly dollar loss went up so much in 2009!! Maybe the way the economy tanked, more people became vulnerable and others desparate. Makes you wonder about technology sometimes.

 
 
#9
Anonymous
August 8th, 2011 at 8:32 am

 I think what will provide better manners, and less theft on the web is the same that would on the streets, respect and consideration for more then just ourselves.  
People think people wear masks on the web, when actually imo it’s the other way around, they wear the nice nice mask when they have to account for themselves,  the web shows just how mean, uncouth and even society / people can be behind a smoke screen.

I don’t agree that real names on facebook is a good thing, giving people our real full names on the web is not a good thing, I think your story does imply that very thing,  re; dark side of technology = I think you mean the web.

 

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