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Was spam invented to kill electronic communications?

Was spam invented to kill electronic communications?

This thought has occurred to me more than once and seems that there is some logic to this thinking, namely whether the main purpose of spam((I use this term to denote unsolicited electronic communication of all forms, not just e-mail spam, which is the most ubiquitous form)) is to kill electronic communication.

Take e-mail – one of the oldest forms of electronic communications still around. On my google mail ID, for instance, I have been getting a mountain of “detected” hard spam which get directly sent to the spam folder, but apart from that, I also get “soft” promotional spam from sources that have a legitimate reason to know my identity((the most common instances being, websites where I’ve signed up voluntarily, like e-commerce sites or my bank)) that I am forced to manually delete from the inbox every time because I also get genuine notifications from such sources. This has led to a situation where I judge that out of 100 e-mails I get, I hardly get around 2 or 3 from genuine human beings sending me an e-mail. If you don’t check your mailbox almost every day, you could be left with more than hundreds of unread e-mails, most of which are promotional mails and/or notifications from websites/providers. These days, e-mail is mostly dead as a human-to-human communication medium, except in a corporate context, where at least basic levels of anti-spam is implemented and security policies are periodically reviewed and updated.

Social media, another tool which began as a human-to-human connection and communication platform, has again been taken over by corporate advertising and promotional content, with a huge spam problem to boot. Instant messengers, including their modern avatars like WhatsApp have been taken over by business spammers who keep sending you unsolicited messages. The use of pre-recorded marketing calls for spamming seems to have increased tenfold, despite attempts by the regulatory authorities and governments to ban them, showing that the technology to prevent spamming at a mass level is still catching up. The pre-recorded voice calls are the worst, taking up your valuable attention and forcing you to attend or cut the call, and each such momentary distraction adding up to unproductive time. And of course, SMS spam continues unabated, with spammers increasingly adopting techniques that prevent the recipient from directly blocking the source. With the development of AI technology, I fear this problem of non-genuine electronic communication will only increase and make fighting spam tougher. On this very blog, I have to keep clearing the detected spam comments by the dozens almost every day, while comments from legitimate readers have almost disappeared completely. While I personally keep periodically reviewing my anti-spam measures, I doubt that most people bother beyond a point.

While I searched about this topic online, I found an article on ZDNet from twenty two years ago, highlighting how spam could destroy the internet. Back then, e-mail spam was the major source of the problem. Well, the internet is not destroyed, but it seems that we are still waging a tough battle against spammers who have now infiltrated every single form of electronic communication possible.

Ultimately I almost have to wonder whether spam was invented by folks motivated to destroy electronic communication. Why else would they bother? With so much spam clogging up the electronic bandwidth, increasing noise-to-signal ratio to unacceptable levels, and frustrating recipients everywhere, I fail to see how pure commercial interests lie behind this phenomenon. In fact, when I sometimes read some of the more nonsensical spam I receive I almost think that the main purpose of spam is to to kill electronic communication completely by flooding us with shit.

Are news paywalls still relevant in 2022?

Are news paywalls still relevant in 2022?

Or perhaps the question should be “were they ever relevant at any point of time?”

Recently I was checking for news about the ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka and came across a couple of articles that were behind paywalls. Needlessly to say I simply went on to click other links. In this day and age, I just don’t understand how this technique will generate revenue. If I don’t get the news from one source, I just click another link. The explosion of alternative media has ensured that there are a wide range of choices to get news and opinions from. It’s long past the era when one got the latest news from traditional newspapers like The Hindu or Times of India. Today you have these traditional media houses begging for subscriptions to keep them alive, appealing to support “free and fearless journalism.” Well, unless you offer really unique or specialized knowledge that is not available elsewhere, such tactics will fall flat.

While I don’t have any stats, I am sure that paywalling isn’t a successful business model. In an era of dwindling attention spans, getting people to read long-form text content is hard enough, while it’s just trivial to get the same news from some other free source. Also opinion pieces aren’t really worth subscribing to, even if they do come up with click-bait titles and clever previews.

I am divided about this: while I don’t necessarily trust traditional media to indulge in ethical journalism, I don’t want a world where Google, Facebook and Twitter have a stranglehold on delivery of digital content, including news, and monopoly on revenue generated from such content. At the same time, traditional media houses cannot simply use emotive tactics to get people to give them money. We’ve seen how this larger conflict between traditional media and tech giants has played out, with some countries such as Australia legislating that tech giants pay for news content and Canada also proposing a law for revenue sharing between tech giants and traditional news houses, with other countries likely to consider such legislation. It seems fair that when tech giants such as Google and Facebook make money from advertising off content they didn’t create, they must be asked to share the revenue generated from such advertising with the content creator. How effective such legislation will be in the long term remains to be seen of course.

I can well understand that online alternate media has made it difficult for traditional print media to survive and subscription is a tempting revenue source, but even so, charging for access to digital news content from end users does not seem the way forward.

Pre social-media online presence and disappearance

Pre social-media online presence and disappearance

A recent blog post from my brother on social media led me to think of online networking before social media giants like FaceBook and Twitter became popular. In those days, the main source of online networking was through blogging, internet forums and sites like Flickr which catered to a fairly niche audience (in Flickr’s case, photography). And those days, people rarely used their real names online. Most people went under a pseudonym, also called a “handle”. While in the case of blogging many chose to blog under their real names, on web-based forums and pre social-media networking sites, people usually chose a pseudonymous handle. There was basically no compulsion to reveal your real name or identity unlike on modern social media which strongly encourages you to link you to identifiable details like mobile number, your first name, middle name and surname and also associate your identity with all mutual friends, friends of friends and so on. All this contributed to something of a mystique around an online identity without any revealed real-world connections.

The point of this post is that pre social-media online identities made it almost impossible to find out why a person suddenly disappeared from an online existence, which is disconcerting especially if you have interacted with that person a lot. I had a lot of blogging friends back in the day who simply stopped blogging and disappeared after a few years, completely removing themselves from any traceable online presence. Even those with real names are near impossible to trace if they have no social media presence. I don’t think a lot of the old-school bloggers and those who were prominent on internet forums have a social media presence these days, at least on the popular mainstream ones. I think I am one of the few rare bloggers who maintain an online presence from 2005 till date. I am not sure of percentages but I would hazard a guess that around 90% of the blogs/forums I used to follow back in 2005 have disappeared, either completely or probably resurfaced on social media without any connection to their earlier online presence. And of the people I knew who stopped blogging, very few recognizably resurfaced on social media.

I am not sure of the reasons for sudden online disappearance, which could be varied. Maybe people chose to remove themselves from the virtual world for privacy reasons, maybe they lost interest, their life situation changed, career pressures took over, family responsibilities came in the way or (sadly) just passed away. Such is life.

In so far as the internet is concerned, the disappearance of a person from online activity does not always mean complete removal of all traces of the person — it’s not rare to find long-dead blogs/websites still preserved on free services like Blogspot or WordPress and in the case of paid domain names which have expired, it’s even possible to retrieve an archived copy from services like the Wayback Machine.

From another angle, it may actually be a good thing to have the option to totally and completely wipe out an online identity and associated content permanently. As of today, I doubt whether this is technologically feasible, what with all the massive archiving of content by different web services and providers. As they say, once it’s on the internet, it’s probably there forever, even if the creator has long since disappeared, mysteriously or otherwise.

Criminal original jurisdiction of High Courts in India

Criminal original jurisdiction of High Courts in India

Scales of Justice

With the recent sensational arrest and detention of prominent journalist Arnab Goswami, and his subsequent interim application for release on bail being rejected by the Bombay High Court, I thought this would be an opportune moment to write a little piece on the criminal original jurisdiction exercised by our High Courts. Original jurisdiction means jurisdiction exercised by the High Courts wherein Petitions are filed directly before the High Court, and not as appeals/revisions from lower courts’ orders.

The law that governs the jurisdiction of the High Courts is of course, the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, though in some circumstances the High Courts can also exercise jurisdiction under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India which concern writ and supervisory jurisdictions respectively. More particularly, in the case of exercising power under the Constitution, the High Courts can issue writs of Habeas Corpus when a person is held in illegal custody by any person or persons, including the police/state. But since the writ and supervisory jurisdiction of the High Courts, even when they involve criminal matters, are generally not considered to be an exercise of criminal original jurisdiction, I’ll limit myself to the commonly exercised powers of the High Courts under the Criminal Procedure Code((I’m not going into the administrative and procedural provisions of Cr.P.C. relating to the powers of the High Court. There are a huge number of provisions in the Cr.P.C. dealing with the powers of the High Court which is beyond the scope of this article)), which I’ll refer to as the Code from here on.

Bail under Section 439

When a person is arrested and detained either under police or judicial custody, he/she can approach either the High Court or a Court of Sessions for bail under this section. High Courts are empowered to grant bail, conditionally if necessary, under Section 439(1)(a) of the Code. The section states:

439. Special powers of High Court or Court of Session regarding bail.

(1) A High Court or Court of Session may direct-

(a) that any person accused of an offence and in custody be released on bail, and if the offence is of the nature specified in subsection (3) of section 437, may impose any condition which it considers necessary for the purposes mentioned in that sub- section;


So, a petition for bail can be filed under Section 439 either before the High Court or the Court of Sessions. Conditions may be imposed if the offence is of the nature specified in Section 437(3), that is, for any offence carrying a maximum punishment of seven years or more. Bails for serious offences are usually granted with conditions. Conditions imposed on the Petitioner generally are (i) visiting the local police station periodically and signing a register (ii) cooperating with the police investigation when called upon to do so, and (iii) not leaving the jurisdiction in which he/she is residing without taking permission from the Court and so on. Unconditional bails are rarer, but are granted when it is shown that there is no prima-facie case against the Petitioner.

Anticipatory bail under Section 438

This section provides for the grant of what is popularly known as “anticipatory bail”, but this phrase is not actually used in the Act. Here is the wording of Section 438(1):

438. Direction for grant of bail to person apprehending arrest.

(1) When any person has reason to believe that he may be arrested on an accusation of having committed a non- bailable offence, he may apply to the High Court or the Court of Session for a direction under this section; and that Court may, if it thinks fit, direct that in the event of such arrest, he shall be released on bail.


This section actually states that the High Court may pass an order that if the Petitioner is arrested in the future, he/she shall be released on bail, subject to conditions. Section 438(2) states the conditions which may be imposed by the High Court:

(2) When the High Court or the Court of Session makes a direction under sub- section (1), it may include such conditions in such directions in the light of the facts of the particular case, as it may think fit, including-

(i) a condition that the person shall make himself available for interrogation by a police officer as and when required;

(ii) a condition that the person shall not, directly or indirectly, make any inducement, threat or promise to any person acquainted with the facts of the case so as to dissuade him from disclosing such facts to the Court or to any police officer;

(iii) a condition that the person shall not leave India without the previous permission of the Court; (iv) such other condition as may be imposed under sub- section (3) of section 437, as if the bail were granted under that section.


As you can see, this bail order comes into force from the moment of arrest of the Petitioner. As with bail, conditions may be imposed by the High Court or Court of Sessions. These additional conditions may be imposed to ensure that the Petitioner cooperates with the police investigation and also does not leave India without getting permission from the Court. In fact, High Courts have wide discretion to impose any condition that it deems fit and proper in the circumstances of the case.

Inherent powers under Section 482

This is a catch-all section which grants inherent powers to the High Court to make any order to give effect to the provisions of the Code, to prevent abuse of the process of Court and in the interests of justice. The provision is reproduced below:

482. Saving of inherent powers of High Court. Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent powers of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.


Under this section, the High Court can pass any order in any criminal case, including but not limited to, directing the police to register a complaint, quash complaints which are obviously mala fide, transfer the case to CID, CBI or other agencies, modify or relax bail conditions, and so on. However, in exercising jurisdiction under this provision, High Courts are generally very cautious to ensure that the powers of lower Courts and investigating agencies are not unnecessarily interfered with.

As can be seen, the High Court can be approached for bail, anticipatory bail or any other kind of miscellaneous orders in respect of criminal cases at different stages. I have not gone in-depth into any single aspect or even covered all the possibilities, because the law is an ocean and I can only take a small dip into it with a cup.

The era of use and throw

The era of use and throw

In the last twenty or so years, things have changed a lot when it comes to consumer durable goods, particularly electronics. We’ve seen the transition from the fat CRT television sets to ultra-thin LED TVs. From analog to digital. From metal to plastic (and increasingly cheaper plastic at that). Even in the last decade or so, a lot has changed. For example, smartphones no longer come with removable/replaceable batteries — they are soldered into the devices, making it much harder to get battery replacements. The shift from desktop PCs to laptops to smartphones (and tablets) is a case in point. Even earlier in the day of analog electronics, repairing devices was the norm. Over time, it has become an increasingly rare exception.

In the past, when a component of your desktop system failed, you simply replaced that part alone((in fact, assembling a desktop computer was and still is an easy project)). There was a thriving market for replacement parts. Laptop parts aren’t so easy to replace, and with mobile phones and tablets it’s almost impossible to repair or replace individual components. Well, it is possible to “repair”, but the cost of the replacement components makes it a better (wiser?) option to buy a new device. You can see the same trend in almost every other household gadget. Things aren’t being made to last — they’re being made to be replaced once every few years and the environmental and social costs are heavy. Notice how most electronic gadgets, even the more expensive ones, come with a measly one year or, at best two years of warranty. And there is almost no incentive to repair old devices out of warranty — just chuck them away and “upgrade”. I notice that there are fewer and fewer technicians who offer repair services at reasonable prices — maybe it’s just not a profitable business any more or maybe the products aren’t designed to be repaired((I suspect that the latter has contributed to the former)).

It’s not that technological advancements have made repair harder than replacement as much as the manufacturers would like us to believe. There appears to be a deliberate movement away from reliability, repairability and build quality:

That scarcity is by design. Manufacturers don’t want you to fix that broken microwave or air conditioner; they want you to buy a new one. Some even send cease-and-desist letters to people who post repair information online. Back in 2012, Toshiba told laptop repair tech Tim Hicks that he needed to remove 300 PDFs of Toshiba’s official repair manuals from his website, where he was offering the information for free. To avoid being sued, Hicks complied, and now fewer people have the guidance they need to repair Toshiba laptops.


Not just in electronics: occasionally, when I get my hands on an old household item, even something as trivial as a plastic bucket made years ago, it seems almost amazing how the build quality has deteriorated in recent times. It seems that manufacturers now have made build quality and longevity a “premium feature”, to be paid for through the nose, rather than to be expected in any product.