Information Without Frontiers

Twenty-five years and a fortnight ago, Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal for what would eventually become the World Wide Web. In his words on its silver anniversary: “By design, the Web is universal, royalty-free, open and decentralised.” Or, as he tweeted from the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony…

This is for everyone #london2012 #oneweb #openingceremony @webfoundation @w3c — Tim Berners-Lee (@timberners_lee) July 27, 2012

Seemingly no frontiers, then. And yet there are frontiers, both because two-thirds of the planet can’t access the web, and because those that are connected are at risk of being overwhelmed by the amount of information and of having their personal data compromised.

When you are overwhelmed with information, how do you choose what to read, and how do you know what to trust? A friend told me that people are going back to print media because it is bounded, but I couldn’t find a link on Google to a corroborating article, so I don’t know whether the story is true.

Information security is a key issue for any organisation venturing onto the internet and the web. It’s about the confidentiality (think credit card numbers, NHS records); integrity (the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth); availability (24×7); authenticity (does what it says on the tin); and non-repudiation (message received and understood) of information. Confidentiality for one implies the need for a whole lot of frontiers. Nor do I particularly want the government or any private company to be collecting information about me online (shout out to GCHQ and the NSA if you’re reading this!) The question of the balance between privacy and national security is going to be a thorny one for quite some time.

Another frontier that I think needs to exist and be improved upon is age-related content. TEDxExeter 2012 speaker Andy Robertson is the go-to-guy for discussion on video game ratings, which aim to protect children from inappropriate games, and recommendations for family-friendly games. It’s a thorny one for parents too, balancing their children’s privacy and security.

Then there are the frontiers that do exist but maybe should not. The lack of transparency in company ownership and tax affairs; the hording and reselling by government of data whose collection was funded by the tax-payer; the sky-high prices of scientific journals containing research which, yes, was most likely funded by the tax-payer.

And the wibbly-wobbly frontier that I haven’t quite yet sorted in my head: is Google making us stupid?