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 balkanisation of the internet.”
Balkanisation 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 organisation 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.
– 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.