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Four biggest threats to the Internet: Pew study looks ahead to 2025

Will the Internet still be an open forum for viewing and sharing photos of cats in 2025?

That’s a question the Pew Center asked — OK, so it didn’t specifically mention feline photography — more than 1,400 people in a study carried out with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center for the institutions’ sixth joint Web study.

The specially canvassed experts and members of the public were mostly optimistic that people will still be able to share videos, read blogs and troll celebrities 10 years from now. But they did identify four threats to the open Internet:

Interference by governments: A number of nation-states, including Turkey,Pakistan and Egypt, have already blocked or filtered content, mostly in an effort to quell popular protests, and survey respondents were concerned that others will follow.

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

Surveillance programs will erode trust: Edward Snowden’s revelations of a massive NSA program of spying on emails and phone calls has left many worried about personal privacy. Data breaches, such as that suffered by retailer Target last year, have convinced others that bank-account and payment-card details are too easily harvested by hackers with criminal intent.

“Privacy issues are the most serious threat to accessing and sharing Internet content in 2014, and there is little reason to expect that to change by 2025, particularly given the cyberterror threats confronting the Internet users and worldwide businesses,” said Peter S. Vogel, Internet law expert at Gardere Wynne Sewell.

Commercial pressures will derail the open structure: Some of the architects of the Internet were worried that the rush to make money from the medium would limit the user experience, citing the telecommunications companies lobbying against Net neutrality as a clear threat.

“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 ISPsand content providers are willing and able to spend on defending their competing interests. Unfortunately, the interests of everyday users count for very little,” said P.J. Rey, a Ph. D. candidate in sociology at the University of Maryland.

The “TMI” problem will lead paradoxically to less information: The effort to filter information to make it more manageable could have the opposite effect.

“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,” said Joel Halper, an engineer at Ericsson.

You can read the entire report here.

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