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Both beginners and veterans are finding the Interweb experience so repellent that they're disconnecting in droves, blaming malware and spam. Despite an overall increase in numbers of humans connected to the internet, the mass turn-off is beginning to hit ecommerce in the United States.

"Instead of making life easier — the essential promise of technologies since the steam engine — the home PC of late has made some users feel stupid, endangered or just hassled beyond reason," writes Joe Menn, who penned the definitive book on the Napster phenomenon, in a must-read feature for the Los AngelesTimes.

Gee. And we thought everyone was joining the 'blogosphere' - melding into one enormous global hive mind. Clearly, something is spoiling this happy picture.

Although overall internet usage is increasing, ecommerce has felt the brunt of the mass turn-off, as newcomers find the net is less than they expected, and veterans decide that being connected is no longer tolerable.

The Times cites a survey in which almost a third of online shoppers are buying less than they used to because of security worries. Despite the US broadband boom, the number of online shoppers rose only one per cent last year.

Menn also suggests why. A recent survey reckoned 80 per cent of PCs are infected by malware. The speed with which an unprotected labs was infected - just four minutes - bears that out. And there's little sign of respite. Malware authors are creating 150 zombies a week.

Now comes the hard part. Mired deep in New Age gloop, California's internet evangelists can't even see the problem, let alone suggest a solution. Into this intellectual vacuum, draconian solutions - almost all of which involve compromising the end-to-end principles that have allowed so much malware to flourish - seem likely to find favor with fed-up net users.

Over two years ago we speculated that lock-down solutions such as Palladium and TCPA, or safe, private nets may one day be welcomed as a solution to the internet's tragedy of the commons. This looks more likely than ever.

Self-healing, it ain't. ®

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