Column: Trust in the internet

By Jeff Lipsey

EBay, banking, poker, blogs, shopping – all very popular activities online for the young generation, yet still many of the older generation still aren’t trusting them. I know my parents and grandparents are still clueless about the Internet life and even friends my age stray away from online shopping. Critics believe that online shopping is too risky and the likelihood of getting ripped off increases. However, that can happen when you shop in a store as well.

Take Best Buy for instance. I’ll never purchase an extended warranty from them. On every rebate Best Buy sells, they automatically record a certain percentage as revenue. When a rebate costs 50 percent of the product (such as my latest computer purchase), you are stupid if you purchase it. Starting in November 2004, Best Buy initiated a program deterring the 20 percent least profitable customers to their store. Such a program includes charging a 15 percent restocking fee and reducing their rebates. If Best Buy uses this tactic, there’s no stopping any other retailer. For value shoppers, the Internet may be the last place left.

Perhaps one of the most well known Internet retailers is eBay. Established in 1995, eBay set a precedent for internet consumers. Never before could you buy or sell to everyone in the world at such a convenience. After eBay came another notable e-retailer, Amazon, linking independent proprietors and individual sellers together. Many people would find it difficult to not trust Amazon, but eBay is pretty much shop at your own risk.

Pricewatch.com, well known for their assortment of computer prices at rock-bottom prices, links independent computer retailers to customers. However, some experts will tell you to watch whom you buy from on Pricewatch, as you don’t want to buy a faulty product. Obviously, you should do that wherever you shop, and not just online.

We look at the retailers with a cautious eye, but to critics maybe we should do the same to other sites. Maybe I should second-guess the advice that the Motley Fool gives on investing, since any good information they have they would keep for themselves. Blogs have also become increasingly popular, that should mean that we need to be cautious around them too. We shouldn’t post so much personal information; some hacker could come ruin our lives.

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So the question is: who can we trust online? To me, I would say everyone. I’ve always had more trust in the common person and even after a couple of scares, I still feel the same way. I bought all my Christmas presents last year online and had them delivered back home. By buying computer parts online I save as much as 50 percent instead of shopping at Best Buy.

I have an Internet banking account that I use for my online poker accounts, I trust that more than I would my regular bank. I’ve used Pay Pal, eBay, Pricewatch, BestBuy.com, Amazon.com, and even a random flower retailer based in Colorado.

I regularly post on a forum online and over the past year, I have developed friendships with some of the members. I talk to them on a regular basis on the phone as well as online. I trust them as much as I would anyone else and yet my critics disagree on what they consider ‘friends.’ I don’t believe I should treat every individual to whom I interact with hostility. I will be meeting them for the first time in a couple weeks; maybe I should take a weapon to protect myself. Maybe not.

I still believe in the common decency of the human being. My roommate found a camera on a trip to California and through a weird link of blogs, found its rightful owner. Two random people interact on two different sides of the nation, yet they both have something in common. The Internet brings our world closer together and it is not going anywhere.

Jeff Lipsey is a senior in business. His column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].