As Internet experts look to the future of the Web, they have a number of concerns. The majority of respondents to this 2014 Future...
internetAs Internet experts look to the future of the Web, they have a number of concerns. The majority of respondents to this 2014 Future of the Internet inquiry by Pew Internet 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.

“We call this research study a canvassing because it is not a representative, randomized 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”, said Pew Internet analysts.

More than 1,400 people responded to the following yes-or-no question:

Accessing and sharing content onlineBy 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 percent answered “yes” while 65% 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.

The entire study is available here.

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 realize the fullest potential of the Internet, or describe challenges you expect may stop people from realizing the fullest potential of the Internet.

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.

Paul Saffo, managing director at Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at StanfordUniversity, said, “The pressures to balkanize the global Internet will continue and create new uncertainties. Governments will become more skilled at blocking access to unwelcome sites.”

Christopher Wilkinson, a retired European Union official, board member for EURid.eu, and Internet Society leader predicted, “Surveillance … at the minimum chills communications and at the maximum facilitates industrial espionage, it does not have very much to do with security.”

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