Is the Internet Due for a Change?

If So, Here’s What Things Might Look Like

You can never judge a book by its cover …

In 1215, one of the world’s most famous documents was created on a simple piece of parchment paper. The Magna Carta, also known as “The Great Charter” may look like merely a paper full of writing, but it’s inspired some of the world’s greatest minds and historical documents.

Before the Magna Carta, England was ruled by King John. Many modern and past historians remember King John as one of the worst rulers in history. He was charged with murdering his nephew, starving his enemies and collecting high taxes to fund his lavish lifestyle and expensive foreign wars.

If any constituents refused to pay the high taxes, he would take away their property or punish them severely. Eventually, London was captured by the barons, and King John was forced to change his ways. The two sides met and negotiated a document called the Magna Carta.

The historical document deals with medieval rights and customs, but it’s thought of as much more than that. Around the world, the work is a powerful symbol of liberty. Most famously, the Magna Carta gave all free men the right to a fair trial and justice. According to the document, every citizen, including those who have power, must obey the law, even King John.  

Although the Magna Carta showed promise at settling tensions between King John and the barons, a civil war broke out after the charter was declared invalid by Pope Innocent III. Soon after the beginning of the war, King John died, and nine-year-old Henry III came to power.

During the 13th century, the Magna Carta was reinstated several times in an attempt to keep the peace. It was officially written into English law in 1297 (after its 1216, 1217 and 1225 iterations were released). Currently, the Magna Carta has been around for about 800 years.

During this time, the document has influenced countless other historical figures and documents, like Thomas Jefferson and the United States Declaration of Independence.

So, you’re probably wondering what the Magna Carta has to do with the internet? Well, Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web (WWW), is drafting a Magna Carta to improve the web in the modern age.

Who Is Tim Berners-Lee?

Tim Berners-Lee created the WWW, which is comprised of webpages. The internet, on the other hand, is the system of connected computer networks that allows information to be transmitted around the globe. The WWW is an information system that operates within the internet.

Moving back in time a little, in 1955, Tim was born to parents who both worked on the first commercially-built computer. Tim grew up and eventually studied physics as an undergraduate. After obtaining his degree, he worked for various companies and eventually became an independent contractor.

While working with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Tim wanted to create something that would help researchers share and update information contained in hypertext. Text that contains links to other texts is called hypertext.  Tim created a prototype of his ideal system named it Enquire.

Tim briefly left CERN to work in computer networking, but he eventually returned and to continue working on his proposal for a World Wide Web. With the ideas of Enquire, he built the world’s first web browser, web editor and server.

In 1991, the first website, which was created at CERN, went live. This page contained information about what the WWW was and how users could navigate it properly.

Three years later, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium, which creates standards and suggestions to improve the web. Currently, Tim is hard at work trying to change the internet. He supports net neutrality, and he’s creating his own Magna Carta for the web to support his ideals.

The Current State of Affairs

About 3.2 billion people were estimated to be online by the end of 2016, which is about half the world’s population. Since this time, web users have only increased. With a browser, every living person can access and contribute to web pages, improving their lives and their communities.

You can use the web to access minute-by-minute news, weather, social networks, medical information, book flights, engage in intellectual discussion and even buy and sell goods.

According to Tim, in a perfect world, the web would be neutral and unmonitored. You could speak with anyone you’d like and feel assured that your conversation was personal. Tim argues that surveillance on the web is happening, which is why people can’t only use the web, they need to care about its entire infrastructure, too.

The current web is censored. For example, some countries don’t have access to certain social media sites. Since the web was designed to be open and accessible, the fact that it’s becoming more closed is troublesome to various groups, organizations and people.

Another phenomenon that hits close to home for men like Tim and internet activist Eli Praiser is the filter bubble. Websites have algorithms that tell your computer what actions to take to reach a goal. Algorithms can lead to intellectual isolation, as your computer learns what information you want to see and shows you this information.

Based on your preferences, your computer will selectively hide other perspectives from you, limiting your ability to learn or consider other viewpoints.

There are many other things that threaten the openness of the web. The fact of the matter is that the current web is fragmented, under surveillance and it’s filtering. Tim looks at the current status of the web and knows he wants something different.

He wants to be able to access pages on the web and freely chat with other people with different backgrounds. Tim wants to be able to access healthcare websites without having his personal data used against him. He’d like to have a web so powerful and unrestricted that it’s the birthplace for a lot of social innovations.

Tim’s list goes on and contains many more aspects. With his list in mind, do you have your own list? What would you like the web to be now and in the future?

Passion Projects

In his early sixties, Tim launched Inrupt, an organization that’s dedicated to developing a framework for a new, improved internet. Powered by Inrupt, Solid is a platform designed to open up the web and make sure it has no one source of power.

Before jumping into what Solid does, it’s important to understand the big deal with data.

Every time you use your computer, it collects facts about you and then translates those facts into data that computers can process. Your computer may remember words, observations, activities and more about you. When it comes to personal data, your demographics, location, email address, bank account information and more are probably already stored online.

In and of itself, having this info stored online isn’t a huge problem. What gets more troublesome, though, is when this data is used in a controversial way. Many advertisers and companies use your personal data to sell you products you’re likely to buy. They also use this personalized information to give you suggestions and show you content you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Some companies even sell your personal data to other businesses. If you’ve ever gotten a targeted advertisement from a company you’ve never seen or heard of, it might be because another group sold the company your information.

Having all of your information stored on the current web is scary, which is where Solid comes into the picture. With this ecosystem, you are empowered to decide how your data is stored. When you upload photos, create a new contact or send a text message, you can ensure the related data is stored on something called the Solid POD.

The Solid POD lets you manage your own data at any time without distraction. You can access your POD from anywhere. In some ways, a POD is like your own private website.

When you use a new application on your Solid POD, you can choose to have the application read or write your POD. In short, this means that you don’t need to fill in information when you get a new application. With your permission, Solid POD can provide the information needed.

If you want to learn more about Solid, you might find it interesting that there’s no one place to “signup.” Since Tim’s Magna Carta includes a decentralized web, there’s no one place to create your Solid POD. Instead, you can verify your identity to access POD on a Solid server.

Installing and running a Solid server takes some general knowledge of computer programming language. If you’re not up-to-date on Javascript, reach out to the technical support company HelpCloud for help.

Two other startups, Kialo and Pursuance, are also offering a more idealistic type of web, much like Tim is trying to accomplish. Kialo is an online platform that’s designed for open debates.

No matter what you want to discuss, from what recipe you should make for your next holiday party to current events, Kialo keeps the conversation balanced. Their mission is to make the pros and cons of any discussion clear without adding unnecessary details.

With a unique setup, you can use Kialo to dive as superficially or deeply into a topic as you’d like. When you click on a specific discussion, all of its supporting and opposing information will display clearly, allowing you to gain a general understanding and hone in on more targeted debates.

Another advantage is that the arguments on this network are arranged according to their impact. Users judge arguments, rate them, and then their score decides where they fall in appearance order. If you’d like to get involved, you can easily add your own comments and post them for others to see and discuss.

When it comes to Pursuance, users can use open source software to organize with others and achieve shared goals. Members can assign, share and tackle tasks with one another so they can get closer to their overall goals.

One way to think of this would be to imagine a journalist who’s trying to tackle a major story. He or she might post the goal of the story online in hopes that informants, researchers and other citizens can get involved and help provide key information on a secure, decentralized platform.  

Media Giants

This year, Tim’s Magna Carta is supposed to become official. In November of 2018, Facebook and Google preemptively backed his document.

This is an interesting move, as some point fingers at these organizations for creating online privacy issues, personal data breaches, manipulative advertisements and more. Of course, the document isn’t official yet, so there is a chance that internet giants will agree today, only to rescind their acceptance in the years to come.

In addition to the Magna Carta for the internet, other documents are being created in an attempt to address data privacy concerns that nearly every internet user experiences.

At the federal level, there’s no privacy legislation that states privacy is a right secured by federal law. This is partially why the Cambridge Analytica disaster was able to go so far with such minor repercussions.  

Protecting Yourself Now

With the current state of the internet, protecting yourself is essential. One of the best ways to make sure your information stays safe online is to limit what you post.

When you use Facebook and other social networking sites, you can add lots of information. Although you will probably want your loved ones online to know your birthday, do they need to know your address, relationship information and more? If you wouldn’t tell a stranger an aspect of your life if he or she asked, make sure you don’t post it on your social media for the world to see.

On another note, it’s important to be careful of what you post …

When you publish something online, you may not be able to remove it from the web. Some online platforms store their data, and even if they don’t, there’s always the chance that someone else will make a copy of what you said online. To ensure your words aren’t used against you, try avoid posting things that would make your relatives or potential employers think twice.

Also, when you use a web browser to search online, check your privacy settings before you scan the internet. Many browsers have built-in security measures that need to be turned on to work properly. Similarly, many social media sites have privacy settings that will help protect you if you enable them.

Another thing to think about is who you’re meeting online. Unfortunately, people often make fake social media profiles to prey on others. When new people try to talk to you online or befriend you, make sure you’re sensible and cautious as you interact with them.

Even with browser security measures in place, you should still search smart.

A good way to think about this is by considering of your car. Even if your car locks properly and has an alarm, you still would think twice about parking it in a dangerous neighborhood. Similarly, even if your computer is secure, you shouldn’t test its limits or carelessly click on links in emails.

As a sort of backup, you can also install antivirus programs on your computer. This technology isn’t perfect, but it can detect many kinds of malware and alert you to issues before they cause big problems.

If you decide an antivirus program is for you, speak with a computer support company for recommendations before you download a program. Some of the free antivirus applications online have malware inserted into them or are simply malicious files, which is often called scareware.

Some scareware will tell a user that his or her system is infected and he or she needs to purchase the “upgraded” version to clear the virus. Generally, these virus warnings aren’t real, but they’re an easy way for a criminal to gain access to your credit card or bank account information.

A good general rule of thumb is to always search a company before you download their offerings. Legitimate companies with helpful programs should have an online presence and possibly some customer reviews.

Whenever you’re online, it’s also smart to think about what type of internet you’re using. Some people go to coffee shops or the library and get on public WIFI connections. When you’re on these types of networks, you have no idea what security measures are in place.

In fact, some criminals even target public WIFI because it connects them to many computers at one time. If you have to use public WIFI, make sure you don’t look up your bank account info or any other personal data while your connection security is unknown.

Still, the best cyber criminals don’t need a public WIFI connection to hack you. Many criminals can convince victims to download harmful virus or click on malicious links at home. One way criminals do this is by sending emails that look like updates.

If you ever get an email from a company stating you need to download or update software, go directly to their website or call their customer service team to ensure the update is valid. This way, you won’t end up downloading a virus from an unrelated site.

Another way criminals often trick their victims is with greeting or birthday card scams. Whether it’s during the holidays or near someone’s birthday, getting a card is always fun.

That being said, sometimes criminals will send you greeting cards pretending to be your friends or family. When they do this, their emails often contain harmful links that end up leading you to a corrupt web page that puts malicious software on your computer.

It’d be a mistake to not also discuss the Nigerian scam; this scam is one of the oldest, and still most prevalent, across the world. The name “Nigerian scam” is used to define a case where an emotional letter, photo or message is sent from a scammer to yourself. The scammer pretends to belong to a wealthy family and asks you to get a large sum of money from a bank for him or her.

In exchange, the criminal will promise you a healthy commission. He or she will ask for your bank account information to transfer the funds and reimburse you for your time, and then your account will be compromised.

A similar way this can happen is with a lottery scam. In this scam, you’ll see an email in your inbox stating you’ve won a large sum of money. To collect your money, you either need to pay small fees or provide some personal information. No matter the case, the scam is not real, and it can trick you into giving away a lot of your hard-earned money.

Across the entire internet, one of the greatest security flaws is weak passwords. When you have a straightforward passcode, it’s easy for criminals to guess your credentials. Maybe sometime in the future, most people will have different, equally complex passwords for every account they access.

Of course, this is not yet a reality, as managing a large number of passwords is difficult for a variety of reasons. However, with a password management system, you can generate and store your passwords in one place.

Lastly, when you go to new websites, it can be hard to tell if you should trust them or not. One easy way to gain an understanding of a site’s trustworthiness is to look at its URL. Websites with “http:” are not secure. Instead, look for “https:” because the “s” stands for secure. Another thing to look out for is a padlock icon next to the address bar, which also indicates a secure site.

Change Is Coming …

As it stands, the online realm is pretty amazing. The world wide web can help seniors age in place, parents organize their family scheduled and kids learn new things.

No matter your age or where you live, if youhave access to the internet, you can benefit from all it has to offer. Still,it’s notperfect, which is why Tim and other internet enthusiasts are fighting toimprove its current and future standing.

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About the author

Photo of Erik Fullmer

Erik Fullmer

Erik was raised in many places but has long since called Utah home. Rooted in mountains, he spends a lot of time with his dogs in the mountains and in the winter he skis… a lot.

Erik is actively earning the necessary certifications and training to become a certified AMGA Ski Guide.

With over a decade of content writing experience, Erik finds passion when writing for the tech and outdoor recreation industries.