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Les dents du web

26/02/2009 - par Mark Tungate (tungateinparis@hotmail.com)

Technology in the 21st century comes with a built-in fear factor. Just as I can't help thinking of Jaws (Les Dents de la mer) every time I'm swimming in the ocean, I sometimes hesitate for a second before I go online. How many people out there are spying on me – tracking which sites I visit or making nice fat files of my email messages?

Hollywood has often cast computers as the bad guys. One only has to think of the vengeful HAL in 2001. My personal favourite is WOPR, the US army supercomputer from Wargames (1983), which almost starts a nuclear war for fun. It changes its mind when it realises that, thanks to mutually assured destruction, the game can have no winner.

One of my fears was realised yesterday when I opened my Hotmail inbox. I discovered about 50 Message Returned notifications, plus dozens of baffled enquiries from my friends. A spammer had used my email address to send an advertisement for electronic equipment to every person on my contacts list. I felt helpless, as though I had been cyber-raped. I swiftly changed my password, but I still don't know if the virus has been eradicated. I apologise to those of you who were spammed.

Is there a cure for internet paranoia? Probably not – we have all become slaves to the system. Email is essential. We will be at the mercy of digital terrorists unless we go back to communicating by telegram or pneumatique. As WOPR observes at the end of Wargames, the only way to win is not to play.

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Les dents du web

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