The Pew Research Center recently issued a report that looks at the various threats faced by the Internet going into the not-too-distant future of 2025. The report was prepared by inviting 12,000 industry experts to opine on the various issues and problems they see with the Internet going forward. While Pew received a wide array of responses they were able to boil the responses into four trends that might threaten the Internet as we know it:
Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more filtering, segmentation and balkanization of the Internet.
We are already starting to see this today. Governments now routinely disrupt the web at times of crisis as has happened recently in the Middle East. Numerous governments censor the web to some degree with the most blatant example being China. But many other countries do this to lesser extent. For example, the major ISPs in Great Britain routinely block content related to pornography, suicide, gambling, violence, weapons and even dating. People can go through a process to opt out of the blocking, but even with the opt-out there is content that is not available in the country.
Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.
This is somewhat related to the first item above, because the revelations related to the NSA spying have led many countries to begin the process of establishing firewalls around the data in their country. This is going to greatly hinder any world-wide cloud products and may even go a long way towards isolating a lot of materials from search engines.
But lack of trust also affects the people using the Internet and many are starting to look at web products and software that will disguise or hide their identity. Further, there is a segment of the population that refuses to use the web due to fear of surveillance. While NSA and government spying grab the headlines, many of the experts are more worried about the data-gathering efforts of large companies like Google and Facebook and the chilling impact that might eventually have on using the Internet.
Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.
This goes to the heart of the network neutrality battle going on in the US. If the major ISPs here begin giving preferential treatment to some content providers then the open web as we know it starts deteriorating. But the fear of the experts goes much farther than net neutrality. Many of them worry that the web is being consolidated into the control of a small handful of network and content companies in the same manner that has happened to cable companies and the media in the US. They fear that control of the Internet by a handful of corporations will lead to decisions about the web based upon short-term quarterly profits rather than doing what is best for the whole web.
Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.
There is already a lot of information on the web and it is actually already getting harder and harder to find exactly what you are looking for. And the amount of information available is climbing at a dizzying rate. The fear of many experts is that there will be software and companies that will filter the web for people and that these filters are liable to have as much of a negative influence on the web as censorship or other overt blocking of data. Any editing of data starts to look like censorship as soon as it introduces bias.