IGF 2009

2009 IGF Egypt Survey
What is your greatest fear for the future of the Internet?

Imagining the Internet conducted a video survey of IGF-Egypt participants, recording formal interviews with 43 people who were willing to take credit for their responses to five questions. The convenience sample of responses to the question “What is your greatest fear, primary concern, regarding the future of the Internet?” was gathered at random from among the 1,800 or so people attending the 2009 event. Use the video viewer on this page to sample a selection of representative answers to the third question asked in the five-question survey.

>Question One: Continuing IGF
>Question Two: Hope for the Internet
>Question Three: Concern for the Internet
>Question Four: 20 years from now
>Question Five: Internet in one word

The written content on this page is a brief sampling of just a few partial quotes from the many responses recorded. To get an accurate representation of all responses in full, watch all of the videos. Each clip is brief, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to less than 2 minutes.

One of the most common answers to the “greatest fear for the future of the Internet” question was a concern that industrial-age institutions and governments might exert controls that divide and conquer the Internet and stifle accessibility, knowledge-sharing, creativity and innovation online.

"One of my biggest fears has always been and will continue to be the fear that one day the Internet will become overly regulated, restricted, and governments or other organizations curtail what the Internet began as," said Marsha Guthrie, a representative of DiploFoundation and the Commonwealth IGF. Carolina Rossini of DiploFoundation and Harvard University's Berkman Center said we have to maintain openness, interoperability and net neutrality. "If we don't guarantee that these three principles happen, we cannot foster creativity, we cannot develop digital inclusion and digital literacy."

Arnoud van Wijk of the Real-Time Text Task Force also mentioned net neutrality. "When people get restricted Internet, blocking or making it selective, you can't use the Internet to its full potential," he said.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of many supporting organizations including the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) said his fear is a power grab. "The greatest fear is that it's taken over by a either a very large, powerful company or a country." John Njoroge, an officer in the eGovernment of Kenya, agreed. "My biggest fear," he said, "is that somebody comes up and makes it his own - that it becomes privatized - that is my concern, not issues of security because at the end of the day issues of security can be dealt with... we know that the Internet is for everybody, it is free, it is open, and nobody has to worry about going and getting it and accessing it. The biggest issue is that it continues to be as it is - free."

Jeremy Malcolm of Consumers International said his fear is that "repressive governments and also large, multinational corporations will try to clamp down so much on the exchange of information on the Internet that it will become unrecognizable."

Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer for British Telecom, said, "The Internet can be used as a great tool for freedom, but it's also a great tool for control. Right now there's a political struggle going on between those who want to use the Internet for the people and those who want to use it for government or big business. My fear is that the powers that already exist will co-opt the Internet and not let the distributed power of the future arise."

Emmanuel Edet of Nigeria's ICT development agency said he fears the "balkanization of the Internet." He noted that some countries seek more control over information. "We are seeing regional blocs coming up who are strong in their own content," he said. "One of the strengths of the Internet is its connectivity, reach and spread, but in a situation where you may not be able to access information from - the typical example is China, or maybe the Arab states - I think that's my greatest fear."

Robert Guerra, a director for Freedom House, agreed with Edet. "The fear is that it will be increasingly balkanized and instead of having a global Internet there will be a series of countries that connect sometimes and everything won't work together."

Virat Bhatia of AT&T in India said the Internet has to be delivered "in a democratic manner across the world with cheap and fairly easy access to people who need it the most, which is the emerging nations" or people who do not have that global access will be left behind. He said "the digital divide could become so severe that it could effect people's incomes, civil unrest, development goals, information access, transparency - the quality of governance could severely suffer if Internet wasn't delivered quickly, easily, cheaply to the vast majority of the human population."

John Wilbanks of Creative Commons said his greatest fear is that we forget the original open, sharing ethos of the Internet, "and we begin to close off standards and impose a permission culture technically, legally, socially, semantically, scientifically that makes it difficult to achieve that sort of potential."

A second common theme to the responses was that all tools can be leveraged for positive or negative purposes that bring about some positive, negative and unintentional effects, and the negatives are a fear. Moatassem Kaddah, CEO at LADIS and a technology leader in Egypt, said, "The Internet will have its abuse, misuse, everywhere, whether it is in security issues or mishandling of youngsters in sexually, pornographic or other misuse... people getting into dominating other people so they are controlled by means they do not understand."

Networking expert Ermanno Pietrosomoli of the Escuela Latinoamerica de Redes said, "It can be used as any powerful tool can be used, for good and for evil." He said since there have already been attacks on some countries' infrastructures, so security is a major concern.

Cristos Velasco, director-general of the North American Consumer Project on Electronic Commerce, said, "Cybercrime has tremendously increased at the global level and in many countries." Anupam Agrawal, an Internet Society Fellow attending IGF, noted, "This can be misused by the states, like cyberwarfare, since everyone knows Internet will be a critical resource for the future, so I think states will try to misuse it."

Interviews were conducted by Andie Diemer, Shelley Russell, Drew Smith and Eugene Daniel, researchers from Elon University's School of Communications, under the supervision of Janna Anderson, associate professor and director of the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon.

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