Web Founder’s Fears for Internet Privacy

Craig Buckler

web privacyInventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, addressed members of the UK Government in Westminster last week about his fears for the future of online privacy. He specifically attacked the increased use of deep packet inspection used by some advertising systems.

Sir Tim expressed concern that the UK government had not taken action over deep packet inspection. In contrast, the US Congress investigated the targeted advertising start-up NebuAd which resulted in its chief executive quitting the company.

I’m embarrassed, as a UK citizen and as a US resident, that the US has drawn a line firmly against deep packet inspection and this country hasn’t.

Sir Tim added:

It is very important that you can use the internet without the thought that, when we click, a third party will know what we clicked on in a way that might affect how our insurance premium changes, whether we can get life insurance or another job.

To allow somebody to snoop on your internet traffic is like allowing a company to put a television camera in your room, except that it will tell them a whole lot more.

I feel that the act of using the internet is something that we must be allowed to do without any interference or snooping.

Several UK ISPs have considered and trialled a system called Phorm which analyses the browsing habits of internet users in order to serve relevant adverts. Google have also announced their own “behavioral” advertising system as reported by Phil Butler last week.

Phorm insists that its system is not intrusive, collects data anonymously, and allows users to opt-out of tracking. Its chief executive, Kent Ertugrul, rejected the attacks and claimed that critics of the system do not understand how the technology works.