There’s no question that the internet has done a lot of good for the world, from expanding our access to information, to giving anyone with something to say a platform to say it on. But because the internet is such a powerful tool, various interests are always trying to control or change how it operates. To find out what forces might threaten the free internet in the future, the Pew Interest Group canvassed over a thousand technology builders and analysts. Their responses paint a picture of an online future that’s by turns promising and pessimistic. Pew has synthesized the results of the poll into four main threats to internet liberty, all of which are rooted in issues that have arisen in recent years.
The first threat Pew lists is “Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.” The problem here comes from governments and regimes during times of political turmoil. We’ve seen this happen in places like Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey, where governments have shut down communication pipelines like Twitter and Facebook during protests to make it more difficult for people to organize rallies. Additionally, China has a blanket policy of internet censorship that limits what sites and content its population can access. The experts Pew polled don’t see these issues going away in the next ten years.
The next threat also comes from governments, but in a different way. Experts predict, “Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.” In other words, fears about online privacy — and about who’s watching — will begin to shape and limit people’s behavior online. This threat comes out of news like the revelations made by Edward Snowden regarding NSA surveillance. “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,” says Peter S. Vogel, Internet law expert at Gardere Wynne Sewell.