(Times-News (Burlington, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 12--ELON -- Government spying, fear of espionage and theft, businesses protecting revenues and computerized gatekeepers are some threats that some experts see coming to the freedom of the Internet.
The third report in the Digital Life 2025 series from the Pew Research Internet Project and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center is out. It sees four broad potential threats to the freedom of the Internet.
The report comes out of questionnaires sent to more than 1,400 experts around the world, such as Internet pioneer David Clark, a research scientist at MIT, and David Weinberger, a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
THE FIRST THREAT, according to the report, is regulation and censorship by governments around the world. China has its "Great Firewall," and countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey block or filter Internet access for their citizens to control domestic political movements.
According to Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, more than a third of the people in the world using the Internet use a censored version.
THE SECOND THREAT comes in two forms. One is the widespread phone and email surveillance by the National Security Agency. Governments also could overreact to online theft of consumer information and increase law enforcement's surveillance powers.
Both threats, according to many of the respondents, make people doubt they have privacy online, causing them to censor themselves, which limits the benefits of global communication.
THE THIRD THREAT comes from businesses trying to profit from the Internet. One facet of this is the debate over "net neutrality." It is the idea all creators of Internet content should have the same quality of service rather than pay more for greater use. Neutrality also keeps Internet service providers from giving greater access to their own content and services.
Changes in intellectual-property law also can limit innovation long-term, according to some respondents, for the sake of profits short term.
According to Doc Searls of Harvard University, large media companies staking their futures on the Internet want to turn the net into something more like cable television. It would be where people go to buy content from a few companies rather than a place for millions or billions of people to exchange their own creations without a middle man.
THE FOURTH THREAT comes from the technology that people use to find information online. The algorithms that search engines use to help people find interesting things can also limit what people see and keep them in a kind of information bubble, especially when those search engines are made to steer people to commercial sites.
To see the full report, go to elon.edu/e-web/imagining, and look for the report link.
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