Threats to online privacy, net neutrality could destroy Web, warns Berners-Lee

The further development of the World Wide Web is threatened by the lack of online privacy and efforts to destroy net neutrality, says the father of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The further development of the World Wide Web is threatened by the lack of online privacy and efforts to destroy net neutrality, says the father of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

If the world were to abandon these principles, "we would lose the Web as it is", he said, "and with it, the innovation that has brought us to this point. That's very important".

Speaking at the Nokia World developers conference in London on Wednesday, Berners-Lee said the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was looking at ways to make individuals aware of the importance of the data they revealed online, especially when it could be mashed up with new data such as location and time to provide increasingly fine-grained profiles of them.

He believed the world had to think about privacy "from a completely different point of view" in future, because the threat to personal privacy was so great.

One aspect of W3C's work was to see "how many hoops" users should go through to preserve and protect their information, and the circumstances under which they should be persuaded to part with it.

He suggested that companies that collect data should be under an explicit order to inform customers what data they collected about them and what that data was used for, and whether it was passed to third parties, before customers gave it over.

Referring to the debate about net neutrality, Berners-Lee said the internet and the web had grown the way they had because they were open and based on standards.

For the cost of registering a domain name and getting an IP address anyone could set up a website, push their ideas out, and hope bloggers picked them up and turned them into something more, he said.

This was possible because everyone had an equal chance of being found, and that was because the network treated all bits equally, he said. Moving away from this principle would destroy the freedom to innovate that the web currently promoted.

He said if net neutrality was abandoned, telcos would "subtly" degrade the service for voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls to force users to use more expensive telephone calls. Movie distributors could arrange to have competitors' service slowed, driving traffic towards themselves and governments would be able to censor material that offered different views, he said.

Berners-Lee called on software developers to bear these issues in mind, and to use the W3C's guidelines on application program interfaces and accessibility to ensure that their apps were independent of device and could be accessed by all.

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