What are the biggest threats to the Internet? To mark its 25th anniversary, Pew Research Center asked thousands of thinkers, businesspeople, analysts and other esteemed technology followers to consider what the Internet might look like in a decade — and what most concerned them. Many were optimistic but said there are risks to innovation that can’t be ignored. Here are four threats that came up most often in the report by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, with a sampling of responses plucked from Pew’s Internet Project report…
Threat 1: Meddling by Countries
“Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more significant blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.”
Balkanization is already well under way. Totalitarian states particularly are driven to ring themselves about. Unfortunately, the supposed beacons of democracy in the West have all too often also proven they too can violate the basic norms.
- David Allen, an academic and advocate engaged with the development of global Internet governance.
Surveillance … at the minimum chills communications and at the maximum facilitates industrial espionage, it does not have very much to do with security.
- Christopher Wilkinson, a retired European Union official and board member for EURid.eu.
While surveillance is the most often discussed threat these days, censorship still poses a major threat to communications worldwide. More than one-third of those who access the Internet are accessing a censored version of it and that number continues to grow. We need to continue the development of circumvention tools, and also ensure that those tools provide security.
- Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Threat 2: Evaporation of Trust
“Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about Government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.”
Because of governance issues (and the international implications of the NSA reveals), data sharing will get geographically fragmented in challenging ways. The next few years are going to be about control.
- Danah Boyd, a research scientist for Microsoft.
We will move to an easier world. However, excessive surveillance, data gathering, and privacy violations can endanger the will of the world’s citizens to employ global innovations.
- Jari Arkko, Internet expert for Ericsson and chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force.
The main threat to sharing is the sharers themselves. Call it the meme-ocalypse.
- Alf Rehn, chair of management and organization at Abo Akademi University in Finland.
The inconsistent protection of privacy, whether private information is voluntarily provided or not as well as the inconsistent protection against exploitation will continue to be the bane of connected environment.
- Raymond Plzak, former CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers and member of the board at Icann.
Threat 3: Companies Control the Internet
“Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.”
The extension of copyright terms back into the near-infinite past will reduce what can be shared. Increasing power of patent trolls will slow progress and put more energy into working around solutions, instead of moving forward.
- Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International.
What the carriers actually want—badly—is to move television to the Net, and to define the Net in TV terms: as a place you go to buy content, as you do today with cable… This by far is the most serious threat to sharing information on the Net, because it undermines and sidelines the Net’s heterogeneous and distributed system for supporting everybody and everything, and biases the whole thing to favor a few vertically-integrated ‘content’ industries.
- Doc Searls, director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Right now the knowledge of the 20th century is essentially barred from use online, which is scandalous. Revisions in IP law must occur, and if they don’t, people will essentially take this into their own hands and share at will.
8 Elizabeth Albrycht, a senior lecturer in marketing and communications at the Paris School of Business.
Threat 4: Backlash to ‘TMI’
“Deteriorating trust, meddling by nations and pressure from commercial interests are the threats to the future of the Internet that technology experts fear most.”
If society continues to value devices and connectivity (containers and plumbing) over content, the growth in access to more content will do little to improve the lives of individuals or societies. It will continue to become easier for people around the world to exchange ever greater amounts of content. … The challenge will be in separating the wheat from the chaff.
- Michael Starks, an information science professional.
While there are pressures to constrain information sharing (from Governments and from traditional content sources), the trend towards making information more widely and easily reached, consumed, modified, and redistributed is likely to continue in 2025… The biggest challenge is likely to be the problem of finding interesting and meaningful content when you want it.
- Joel Halpern, an engineer at Ericsson.
Even So, Optimism Abounds:
Social norms will change to deal with potential harms in online social interactions… . The Internet will become far more accessible than it is today—Governments and corporations are finally figuring out how important adaptability is. AI [Artificial Intelligence] and natural language processing may well make the Internet far more useful than it is today.
- Vint Cerf, Google vice president and co-inventor of the Internet protocol.
I don’t know which force—censorship or spying—will lead to greater degradation of net freedoms. Both come from Government. Nonetheless, I still hold hope that technologists and hackers can stay one step ahead of slow Government and rob them of their stakes claimed in the net. Thus I also hope that technologists—programmers, mathematicians, statisticians, et al—will begin robust discussion of the ethics that govern their own power and how they will use it for public good.
- Jeff Jarvis, professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
By 2025, every human on the planet will be online. The collision of ideas through the sharing network will lead to explosive innovation and creativity. We are just at the precipice of collaborative tools today. By 2025, we should have around 8.1 billion people online. Just imagine all those billions of people and ideas sharing and collaborating. Please don’t let me get hit by a bus. I want to live to experience this period which people will later call the Age of Collaboration.
- Tiffany Shlain, host of the AOL series The Future Starts Here and founder of the Webby Awards.
NET :Experts say liberty online is challenged by nation-state crackdowns, surveillance, and pressures of commercialisation of the Internet…
As Internet experts look to the future of the Web, they have a number of concerns. This is not to say they are pessimistic: The majority of respondents to this 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing say they hope that by 2025 there will not be significant changes for the worse and hindrances to the ways in which people get and share content online today. And they said they expect that technology innovation will continue to afford more new opportunities for people to connect. Still, some express wide levels of concern that this yearning for an open Internet will be challenged by trends that could sharply disrupt the way the Internet works for many users today as a source of largely unfettered content flows.
The Net Threats These Experts Fear
- Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.
- Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about Government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.
- Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.
- Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.
We call this research study a canvassing because it is not a representative, randomised survey. Its findings emerge from an “opt in” invitation to thousands of experts who have been identified by researching those who are widely quoted as technology builders and analysts and those who have made insightful predictions to our previous queries about the future of the Internet. Respondents were allowed to choose to share their thoughts for credit or anonymously. More than 1,400 people responded to the following yes-or-no question:
Accessing and sharing content online: By 2025 will there be significant changes for the worse and hindrances to the ways in which people get and share content online compared with the way globally networked people can operate online today?
Thirty-five per cent answered “yes” while 65 per cent more optimistically answered “no.” Yet some who answered “no” wrote in their elaboration on the question that their answer was their “hope” and not necessarily their prediction. Others wrote that they wished they could choose “yes and no.”
Those who expressed hope or the expectation that access and sharing will weather challenges between now and 2025 often noted that it may be possible that billions more people may gain access and begin sharing online over the next 11 years thanks to the mobile Internet revolution and the massive efforts underway now to connect more people across the globe. In short, they hope that the benefits of digital expansion will outweigh the risks.
Whether they offered an optimistic or pessimistic view of the Web’s future, all of the experts were asked to offer their own perspective on the threats or risks facing the Web, and their open-ended responses raise a number of key concerns. When participants in this canvassing were asked about access and sharing in 2025 they were also provided with the following additional prompts, to which some replied and some did not:
Please elaborate on your answer: Describe what you believe are the most serious threats to the most effective accessing and sharing of content on the Internet. What steps are necessary to block changes that would limit people’s optimal future capabilities in using the Internet? Bonus question: Describe opportunities that you expect that will help people realise the fullest potential of the Internet, or describe challenges you expect may stop people from realizing the fullest potential of the Internet. Several themes ran through the elaborations people shared after these prompts, most of them centered on threats to the current structure and operation of the Internet:
Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.
The experts in this survey noted a broad global trend toward regulation of the Internet by regimes that have faced protests and stepped up surveillance of Internet users. They pointed out that nations such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey have blocked Internet access to control information flows when they perceived content as a threat to the current regime. China is known for its “Great Firewall,” seen as Internet censorship by most outsiders, including those in this canvassing.
Some respondents cited the Arab Spring as an example of the power of the Internet to organise political dissent and they then commented on how this prompted crackdowns by Governments. Others cited Governments’ application of broad rules that limit the exchange of all information in order to try to halt criminal activity.
A notable number of these expert respondents also mentioned Edward Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of email and phone call records. They also cited such examples as the theft of customer account details from Target and corporate surveillance of consumers as giving ammunition to those who want to crack down on the content that flows online.