This week, Google was found out to have been bypassing privacy settings in both Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari web browsers, as Martin reported here. In a statement on their blog, the Corporate Vice-President of IE blogged “IE blocks third-party cookies unless the site presents a P3P Compact Policy Statement indicating how the site will use the cookie and that the site’s use does not include tracking the user. Google’s P3P policy causes Internet Explorer to accept Google’s cookies even though the policy does not state Google’s intent.”
Microsoft are now also looking into reports that Facebook does the same and there are apparently many websites guilt of doing this. It does raise some interesting questions though, the biggest of which is should be dump the Internet as currently exists and start again from scratch?
This has been the subject of some considerable debate with Internet professionals in the last year with many arguing that, with malware and fraud as prevalent as they are, we simply cannot control crime and unprofessional behaviour and protect the privacy and rights of netizens without a radical change. They’re not wrong either as online crimes such as identity theft and credit card fraud are at an all-time-high, the use of the Internet as a weapon, both against governments but also companies and even individuals as a means of blackmail is rampant, and we also have privacy concerns from the likes of Facebook and Google (which when set next to the other problems seem trivial).
So could we actually do it? One of the biggest reasons for not abandoning the current infrastructure and, crucially, the methods used to communicate and distribute data over the Internet is the sheer scale of the problem. The Internet is everywhere and a wholesale upgrade would require millions of web and email servers needing new software, none of which currently exists or has been properly field tested. The cost to the world’s economy would run well into billions of dollars and the roll-out would take many years. For an example of this just look at how long it has taken to get IPv6 off the ground!
Then companies have to be convinced to update their websites and email services to the new standards. This would be even harder as companies worldwide are notoriously bad at putting their hands in their pockets to replace IT systems that currently “work”, and compounded by the fact that it would take to very long to upgrade the worldwide software and hardware infrastructure, that both old and new Internet’s would have to coincide for years, maybe even two decades.
On the plus side, software is software and the underlying hardware wouldn’t change. It would therefore no doubt be possible to engineer web browsers to allow both systems to run side by side so as far as end users know there would be no change or difference, and existing web languages could no doubt be ported to any new system.
The advantages of a new Internet are that security would be much tighter. All traffic would be identifiable which would make it extremely difficult for criminals and malware writers to operate, as the authorities would be able to find them much more easily. On the down side, not only would this have privacy campaigners up in arms, but all those people who live in, shall we say, less democratic countries where Internet freedoms are curtailed, would be equally traceable if they even looked at any material that stood against the state. This at its most extreme could endanger lives, and nobody wants that.
So here we have a problem. We either have to make do with the Internet that we have, and probably stop complaining and grumbling about it, or accept years of painful and difficult change at the end of which we will forego much, if not all, of our anonymity. At the end of the process there too would not be any guarantee that criminals and malware writers wouldn’t find ways to circumvent the traffic logging systems anyway and the billions would have effectively been spent for nothing.
What do you think about the future of the Internet? Do we need a new system or is it simply too late for that? How do you compare protecting your anonymity to tracking and deterring criminals? Why not let us know in the comments below.