In the final part of this article series I want to look at what the future might hold for the Internet and all of us who use it. So far I've discussed how secretive governments view the Internet in Part 1, Asked if the west wants to constrain it in Part 2 and then into how it is used by criminals, terrorists and even in war in Part 3.
Overall it's quite a scary picture as it's become clear that if you are an ordinary person, celebrity or public figure it's extremely difficult, if not impossible to maintain your anonymity online. However criminals, terrorists, pedophiles and even those responsible for state-sponsored cyber-warfare use the weaknesses of the Internet to maintain secrecy, both in their identities and, as in the case of the darknets, even the content of their discussions.
Different countries are also showing different approaches to the Internet, some of these are contradictory. It's reported that some people within the pentagon want much tighter controls on our net freedoms. Other countries such as France have already imposed new and unpopular laws governing how we use the web, and a discussion in the British government is currently trying to figure out how to accommodate the Internet into existing laws.
Many people have talked about an Internet ID for every person online. With the Internet currently working as it stands though this would be very difficult to ever get working. Firstly you would need the active cooperation of every country worldwide. It's normally very difficult getting world powers to agree on simple matters, but a contentious issue such as Internet freedoms would be very complex indeed. Any final legislation that emerged would be so completely watered down as to be pretty much useless.
You would then have to find a way to make an Internet ID work. How would it accommodate Internet cafes or using a computer at work? Would it be tied to an IP address? If the latter was the case then it would be far too easy to create false-positive results when searching for an individual.
Another idea is to change email so that all emails are verifiable from the source. This has been talked about for years and is much more workable. The new system, if it were ever to be implemented, would digitally tag an email with the ID of the computer, user and IP address that sent it. Originally designed as a method to combat spam, this would certainly help trace people, some of the time anyway, but still has its flaws.
The biggest problem stems from what the Internet is. In its current form it's just impossible to regulate in the way some people might like it done. This means we would need a second generation Internet but this again has its problems. Any new style of Internet would either have to be backwardly compatible with the existing net, and thus susceptible to many of its flaws, or would consequently take years to get off the ground. The people of the world would essentially be rebuilding the Internet from scratch. It could even mean wholesale hardware and server upgrades too.
There are advantages to this idea though that stem from the fact that the current Internet was never designed to do the things we are now asking of it. Mankind still wants to push the boundaries and a new set of Internet protocols could be the best answer moving forward.
If there were to be any constraints on the Internet and how we use it though the biggest problem would be selling this to the public. On occasion we've given up some civil liberties on the grounds of fighting terrorism or crime, but the backlash from people unwilling to give up the complete freedoms they have online could end up being too much for world leaders to bear. It could simply make the whole project unworkable.
The fact remains though that we have a problem that isn't going away. While security and network researchers and experts occasionally suggest new mechanisms to help, it will take a critical mass to actually get anything off the ground. This might not happen until we outgrow the current Internet architecture and public damand makes a switch essential, such as the current changeover to IPv6.
That again, could be many years away, but experts and researchers need to be planning now for what would replace the Internet that we currently have, how it would work, how it would protect people and critically, how we can still maintain our freedoms.
Advertising revenue is falling fast across the Internet, and independently-run sites like Ghacks are hit hardest by it. The advertising model in its current form is coming to an end, and we have to find other ways to continue operating this site.
We are committed to keeping our content free and independent, which means no paywalls, no sponsored posts, no annoying ad formats (video ads) or subscription fees.
If you like our content, and would like to help, please consider making a contribution:
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.