News Feature | July 30, 2014

Pew Online Canvassing Reveals Potential Impacts To Internet Use

By Cheryl Knight, contributing writer

Potential Impacts To Internet Use

According to the 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing, Internet analysts and other respondents answered questions in a manner that suggests concerns that in the next decade, there could be changes that alter the way the Internet works. 

The Pew Research Center Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted the online canvassing, inviting more than 12,000 experts identified by Pew, Internet analysts, and interested members of the public to share their opinions of the likely future of the Internet. The 2,551 respondents answered one or more of eight questions on the survey.

According to an article from the Pew Research Internet Project, most who responded during the canvassing say their hope is that in 2025 there will not be significant changes to the way people use the Internet to share and access content — other than new ways to connect through technological advances. But there were trends revealed in the canvassing that have the potential to impact the way the Internet works. The trends and some of the comments received during the canvassing follow:

1. Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.

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

2. Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.

Danah Boyd, research scientist for Microsoft, stated, “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.”

3. Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.

PJ Rey, a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Maryland, wrote, “It is very possible we will see the principle of Net neutrality undermined. In a political paradigm where money equals political speech so much hinges on how much ISPs and content providers are willing and able to spend on defending their competing interests. Unfortunately, the interests of everyday users count for very little.”

4. Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.

Joel Halpern, a distinguished engineer at Ericsson, wrote, “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. While this is particularly important when you are looking for scientific or medical information, it is equally applicable when looking for restaurants, music, or other things that are matters of taste. While Big Data analysis has the promise of helping this, there are many limitations and risks (including mismatched incentives) with those tools.”

While it is desirable to subject the Internet to the rule of law, according to an eWeek article, care must be taken to ensure that the free flow of information continues unabated on the Internet.