(Last Friday President Obama announced he would appoint a White House advisor to oversee a national effort to improve cyber-security throughout the U.S.)
Dear United States Cyber-Czar:
I know it’s quaint of me to send a letter. But I think people still relate to the effort and nostalgia of a so-called “snail mail” letter. And I hope you enjoyed the Homer Simpson postage stamp, which perfectly melds our 21st century cultural aspirations with the desperate economics of the U.S. Postal Service. Perhaps postal service stamps will someday honor the computer, for everything it has done to put regular mail out of business. Of course, those stamps will likely cost half a buck.
Your Cyber-Czarness… the president has created your job in hopes of making it tougher for enemies who would attack our computer infrastructure (terrorists, or fat geeks in Star Wars t-shirts trying to win a bar bet) to succeed. Anyone who has watched 24 and witnessed Chloe O’Brien driven to lip-biting by a sinister computer virus will applaud the president’s decision. Certainly Homeland Security issues should be at the top of your list.
But when you get that stuff handled, would you please look into the issues facing those of us hoping to lessen the “hate” dimension of our love-hate relationships with our home computers?
To wit: Despite software products and browser designs that are supposed to impede it, there’s still a lot of pop-up advertising on my computer. Here’s the part you’ll enjoy: Most of my pop-ups have been bundled with programs I bought to prevent other computer irritations. I paid 60 bucks for some Norton virus protection, and with it came a pop-up for another product called “Ghost” which haunts my screen on every boot. There might be a way to remove this demon, but why should I have to go looking for that? Your Cyber-Czarness, you must devote some energy to dealing with the whole concept of uninvited “cookies” and “spyware” and the generally accepted notion that anything advertisers can get into your computer has some bizarre right to be there.
It’s true that other media struggle with similar issues of unwanted appeals and product mentions. But except for my disappointment in Jerry Seinfeld, a can of Diet Coke thrust into my face by a member of his old sitcom cast in the middle of a rerun is easily remedied by changing channels. To attach unwanted and unsolicited files to my computer system meant to collect information or launch advertising or just irritate the hell out of me on a cyclical basis… that seems wrong. Like, old communist Russia wrong. “Comrades, welcome any software that finds its way into your home! We are all one with the Internet!”
I understand that if you leave a door open, flies will get in. But there must be some attention paid to the proliferation of e-mail spam. And if not the volume of spam, then let’s at least reduce the insult factor. Say what you will about junk mail via the postal service, almost none of it alleges that I suffer from sexual dysfunction. Although I can see a day when an advertiser, desperate for results, will send out postcards headlined “Want to have better sex? Then get your carpets steam cleaned today!”
The article announcing your new Cyber-Czar job cited one military official who pointed out that securing U.S. computer infrastructure will avoid “a cyber Pearl Harbor”, appetizing as that might sound to ‘gamers.’ Actually, we were told once that there would be just such an event. “Y2K” freaked everybody out, apparently for nothing. I still have five years worth of peanut butter in my garage. So, much as you need to anticipate worst case scenarios, please look at following present-day scenarios as soon as you have a moment.
Scenario One: Why am I paying extra for text messages on my phone? Is there some vastly different technology required for text transmission? Is additional lumber and mortar needed to build the text turnaround station? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s just somebody holding a cyber-pistol to our tummy and asking us to hand over our wallets. Will your office oversee the cyber-screwing of every single cell phone user on earth? Gosh, I hope so. Without help from you, we’ll soon be paying for each individual e-mail we send. Oh, good lord… did I just say that out loud?
Scenario Two: I have recently been abducted by the Facebook cult. I didn’t ask to be involved with Facebook. Someone entered my name into the cyber citadel of Facebook, and then requests from “friends” started pouring in and I had to either respond or have nearly a hundred people think I was too stuck-up to answer them. I know there’s all this excitement about Facebook right now, but it worries me: Millions offering up their personal data, willingly. Would the excitement abate if they changed the name of Facebook to “Cyber Jonestown” or “Digital Waco?” Your Cyber-Czarness, act now before millions more sip the Kool-Aid electric. Sincerely yours, Steve Stajich. You can write me back or, dude, I’m on Facebook.