March 17, 2008

Net Tracking Rejected by the WWW Inventor

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, doesn't seem to like the road the internet seems to be headed down. He fears internet activity tracking by internet providers, and firmly believes in consumer protection from this seeming privacy violation.

Several leading internet providers have revealed plans to use Phorm. Phorm's advertising system uses personal data and web habits to produce appropriately targeted advertising.

The possibility of the integration of this company into the daily lives of consumers has sparked an abundance of controversy. Sir Tim claims that he would change his internet provider if a system such as this were introduced. He is not comfortable with his ISP knowing what sites he's visiting.

"I want to know if I look up a whole lot of books about some form of cancer that that's not going to get to my insurance company and I'm going to find my insurance premium is going to go up by 5% because they've figured I'm looking at those books," he claimed.  Sir Tim believes that his web browsing history belongs to him and him alone. If someone wants it for use, they need to negotiate with him. He doesn't want it taken from him. That's too easy. He added, "I myself feel that it is very important that my ISP supplies internet to my house like the water company supplies water to my house. It supplies connectivity with no strings attached. My ISP doesn't control which websites I go to, it doesn't monitor which websites I go to."

Phorm's Chief Executive Kent Ertugrul claims that they have not had the chance to explain the system to Sir Tim, and they look forward to doing so. Phorm's system, according to them, will offer security benefits to stop phishing.  Ertugrul also says, ""We believe Phorm makes the internet a more vibrant and interesting place. Phorm protects personal privacy and unlike the hundreds of other cookies on your PC, it comes with an on/off switch." Following negative media coverage, Phorm was forced to give customers this method of opting out.

BT and Virgin, who have already signed up to use Phorm, are considering opt in and opt out options. Talk Talk, another ISP, has decided that its customers have to opt in to use it.

As much as Sir Tim dislikes the idea of net tracking, he supports an opt-in system, due to the fact that it protects consumers rights more so than the opt-out option.

The legality of ISPs watching their customers' web browsing habits has been questioned by privacy campaigners; however, the UK's Home Office suggests the ISPs will conform with the law as long as customers have given consent.

Sir Tim wishes to warn young people about putting information on particular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as anywhere else on the web.

Sir Tim is currently promoting Web Science, an effort to study and guide the future of the World Wide Web. He explained to government ministers, academics and major corporations in Britain that there are currently more web pages than there are neurons in the human brain. The future growth of the web is not currently understood, but it needs to be in order to avoid snags.

He claims the future of the web "will blow our minds".


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Tim Berners-Lee

World Wide Web Consortium