Martin Empson

Dreams on Screen

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'It's been said that dreams are our road maps to the future. If so, where are we headed?' So starts the 'About Us' section of the Common Dreams website, www.commondreams.org

Since 1997 the people behind the website have been 'working to bring progressive Americans together to promote progressive visions for America's future'. They believe in 'using the internet as a political organising tool - and creating new models for internet activism'.

With this in mind, Common Dreams has created a daily news service that brings together a wide range of articles (mainly from mainstream US media, but with a smattering of other papers from across the world) of interest to the activist community.

Denying Dissent

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It has sometimes been difficult to find accurate information about what is actually happening in Iraq.

Embedded journalists only put a highly censored story. It is not surprising, then, that alternative news sources on the web have been the subject of intense debate and in some cases censorship. The nature of the internet makes websites particularly sensitive to attack or closure if their content doesn't meet the approval of the people whose computers run the site, or those with the skills to cause damage.

The Dark Side of the Net

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If you have watched the television or read some of the tabloids over the last few weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking that the web has become the realm of the child pornographer and the paedophile.

But this isn't anything new. The reality is that the web has made the distribution and accessibility of pornography very easy, and it was the pornographers who grasped the potential for the internet to make them very rich indeed.

Big on-line retailers, like the booksellers Amazon, waited years for their first profits (if they didn't go bust long before then), but sex sites frequently earn their owners millions of hits and consequently huge profits. See the article at abcnews.go.com for some of the surprising multinationals behind the sex industry.

A Virtual World to Win

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If you were one of the tens of thousands of people who bought a computer game (or indeed other software) for Xmas, then you are probably still smarting from the price you paid.

One icy night in 1855, the celebrated street brawler John Morrissey walked into a Broadway saloon and spat in the face of Bill 'The Butcher' Poole, the even more renowned goliath of the New York streets. Poole, who led a murderous mob of anti-Catholic 'know nothings', was the arch-foe of Morrissey and other Irish gang leaders in the pay of Tammany Hall. Morrissey tried to blow Poole's brains out with his pistol but it misfired and Butcher Bill was preparing to 'bone the Irishman's cutlet' when the police intervened.

The Perfect Cure

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One of the biggest problems facing users of the internet is viruses.

They cause billions of pounds of damage each year. But viruses are not only a big problem--they are also big business. The anti-virus company Sophos detects between 600 and 700 new types of virus a month--and is making serious money from it. Last financial year Sophos's revenue increased by 40 percent--a profit of over $14 million. You can imagine the corporate glee with which it penned a press release www.sophos.co.uk announcing a similar bonanza in 2001, titling it 'Fighting Viruses, Making Profits'!

Spam, Spam, Spam

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Anyone who has ever used Hotmail--one of the most popular online e-mail systems--will have noticed that junkmail, or spam as it is called, is much worse on its service than any other.

Hotmail (and its parent, Microsoft) claims over 110 million users of its system worldwide - a massive potential market for anyone who has access to its e-mail address book and a computer system capable of sending mail en masse.

A recent report in the 'Guardian' at media.guardian.co.uk estimated that 11 million spam e-mails are sent daily worldwide - even if only a tiny fraction of these prove profitable, there's obviously lots of money to be made from unsolicited e-mails.

A Tale of Two Logos

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With the Johannesburg summit on sustainable development happening at the beginning of September, there are a number of websites giving alternative views to an event which will see large amounts of hot air coming from politicians as they clamour to show their green credentials.

There are many sites dedicated to exposing the real issues behind the summit and climate change in general. Greenpeace have been having fun with their Stop Esso campaign. The website was originally hosted in France. Esso mannaged to get an injunction to stop Greenpeace using their spoof E$$O logo on the Stop Esso website www.stopesso.org. But things are not always that simple in cyberspace--Greenpeace moved the website to a host based in the oil rich state of Texas--where the injunction isn't valid.

The Great Firewall of China

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The Guardian has been running a series investigating the extent to which our lives are recorded and analysed (see www.guardian.co.uk/bigbrother/privacy).

Of particular interest is the capabilities of governments and companies to view and read e-mails, and to log websites visited. Several e-mails have asked about the hushmail e-mail account I use for this column. Well, www.hushmail.com offers a free e-mail service with the ability to encrypt and protect your e-mails so that they can't be read.

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