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It grew because it allowed users to find specific content that could not be found in easily in print, TV or radio. It allowed people to interact, express opinions and develop friendships with others with their same interest.
Since 1998 the number of users has more than doubled. The large media companies, the dot coms have arrived. Many of them have failed; others like AOL are in trouble.
Why? Well I feel part of the reason is that they tried to supplant those things that that attracted the original Internet visitors. The rush to content has been an effort to transform the traditional media, news, magazines, TV and radio to Internet format. This is mass media but not the special interest content of the earlier period.
Fueling this rush were advertisements aimed at transforming direct mail and telemarketing to the Internet. Some of these sites worked and some didn't. Part of the reason for the failures has been the losing sight of what first brought visitors to the Internet.
With the rise of the huckster on the Internet, has come a concern about privacy. No one wants their credit card numbers compromised or to be identified to the hucksters. No one wants to be profiled or to have his or her interests tracked. The Anti-Spam movement is becoming a powerful force preserving privacy.
The downside to this I feel is that we are often throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If we can not identify people with interests like ours; if we hide behind a bunch of different screen names; if we filter out everyone that we haven't communicated with before, aren't we giving up the very things that attracted us to the Internet?
a) I don't live in the US
b) my domain name is not registered in the US
c) my ISP is not located in the US
d) my email server is not located in the US
e) I have never asked for any of this advertising and around 90% of it is illegal in my country (although it is probably legal in the US) or at the very least useless to me
And yet I'm supposed to put up with it because of someone else's laws and rights simply because I want to be able to use the internet? These arguments may work if I automatically stopped getting spam because it's illegal in my country, but I still get it so obviously the arguments are flawed.
Most spam is sent by businesses located in the US, China, Korea, and Russia. This is so because those are the largest countries online that don't seem to care about fair business practises in this context. The US are the biggest economical power among those, and are normally considered a civilized country. This is why it is most useful to use them as an example to discuss the legal background, as changes are most likely there and will have the largest impact.
Apart from that, the legal principles behind the decisions to declare spam illegal everywhere else are always the same. It's a combination of business law (fair competition: pay for your own advertisements), trespass protection (my inbox is my castle), and privacy protection (don't sell my address without my permission). The specific weighting between those principles may vary between countries, but the principles are universal and apply everywhere.
So, with that kind of thought process, I suppose by building a house in town, we are implicitly agreeing to accept whatever bum or crook decides to take shelter there. And further, by putting in a refrigerator and stocking it with food, we must also feed anyone who comes by. Not hardly! The internet is out there and anyone can connect and post their advertisings on a webpage - or purchase advertising space on someone else's webpage, but my email is mine - I pay for it - it is not a public place.
Do you want advertisers to take over your home and set up all their adverising displays in your house - just because they claim it's free speech and they have a right to impose it anywhere they please?
What would happen if a representative from one store stood in the doorway of another store and blocked the entrance telling all who approach to go to the other store? They would be asked to leave and if they refused, they would be arrested for trespassing and possibly harrassing people. However, they could put up a billboard across the street, but not on the property of that store. Same principal - internet advertisers can put up a billboard (a webpage) but not on my computer and not in my email! My right to my possessions, or that which I pay for, rent or lease, is just as important as anyone's right to free speech.