#76: “The Past and Present of the Internet – Part 1”
Published in 2017/01/26 issue
I wrote about the internet in the latter half of the previous column, and at the beginning of this year, I received direct feedback from someone I ran into. Their reactions were along the lines of, “Wait, is the internet really that terrifying?” and “Now I’m scared again.” He asked me to write another column about it, so I’ve decided to write a bit more on the subject.
First off, the internet grew to world-scale when the worldwide web was invented, and it spread like wildfire in Japan, particularly amongst university students and people in the IT industry. At the time, Japan’s internet was based on telephone lines. NTT used its existing lines for its internet service, and since they’d held a monopoly over telecommunications for such a long time, the line quality was rather poor. As a result, it was better to use the internet setups at work or school instead of a personal one at home, and home internet didn’t become popular until later on. Also, since there were many scientists and engineers at universities and in the IT industry, morale was high and all sorts of tools were being developed, further contributing to the popularization of the internet.
Around that time, North America created online games like Diablo and Ultima Online, which became huge topics of interest. Many people would skip school or work to immerse themselves in the online gaming experience.
I don’t think that anonymity factored into the internet’s instant popularity in Japan. At the time, the driving force behind internet users was that they wanted to present their thoughts, research, and ideas to a large audience. It really felt like they were simply happy to have a new place to express themselves. Japan’s internet scene was full of personal blogs; it was hard to find someone who wasn’t keeping an online diary.
And of course, no one really cared about other people’s lives. The internet hadn’t spread to celebrities yet, so it really was just ordinary people’s diaries. Why would you read the diary of someone that isn’t famous and has no relation to you at all? Nevertheless, talented writers were able to attract an audience, and communities were formed around those sites. People would meet each other there and socialize.
I also ran a blog back then (the logs have been completely deleted from the internet, so you won’t be able to find it), which peaked at 300 daily views and reached 400,000 total views before the site shut down. It was a site where I made a lot of rude remarks about the gaming industry, so I’m relieved that it’s gone.
The business side of the internet was still inexperienced back then, so online data was very volatile in nature. If you posted something and left it there, the site would shut down at some point, or the provider’s web service would lapse, resulting in there being no one to manage the data. All of your diary entries and photos would disappear eventually. However, some people and corporations began to realize that there was valuable personal information on the internet. At the same time, HDD storage capacity skyrocketed and became much cheaper. Around the year 2000, someone began saving random data from the internet (it wasn’t actually random).
I’m sure you’ve all experienced receiving invitations to seminars over the phone or product advertisements in the mail—things that make you wonder why they were sent to you. Those made the rounds because things like graduation albums and personal information registered on shopping sites were illegally accessed. Well, while it was called “illegal access,” the truth is that that personal information was sold. There were companies who would intentionally sell your information and use “illegal access” as an excuse.
So, what’s going on with the internet? Right now, the only people in Japan who don’t use the internet are probably under the age of 10 or over the age of 70, because they don’t use cellphones. Even elementary schoolers might be using the internet a lot, because they use PCs in school.
It goes without saying, but all of your online posts have an IP address attached to them. This address is more or less completely unique; there are no duplicates. Apartment buildings and whatnot share a single IP address and use local addresses for each household, but those are all recorded by the router, so it’s easy to figure out which PC was the one. It’s all logged. You may be thinking, “But that’s local data, not online data.” However, there’s still the possibility that it’s being uploaded online. There’s money in personal information, after all.
Now that the world knows that they aren’t truly anonymous on the internet, the trending thing to do is use your real name and only communicate with people that you trust. That was the original concept behind SNS. Facebook is the king of that industry, but it isn’t really that popular in Japan.
After writing all of that, I think I was able to touch on the dangers of the internet. For the next column, I plan to talk about concrete examples and countermeasures.
 SNS stands for social networking service, a service where you can communicate with many people online and build up a social network.