The Internet Archive, which has archived billions of web pages over the last 25 years, is an important resource for helping preserve the history and, dare we say it, freedom of the internet.
To mark their 25th anniversary, they’ve created a theoretical timeline of how the internet and the world might change — and it's spine-chillingly plausible.
One prediction features websites splattered with pop-up ads, with a “classified content” section that unlocks only if you provide your personal information. This is standard procedure for some news sites in the UK. In fact, in 2016, one news outlet even considered preventing access to journalism if ad blockers were used.
Worse than data mining is the idea that in the future you could be prosecuted for your thoughts. Another prediction imagines a website notifying you with a message that reads “This site contains information that is currently classified as thoughtcrime in your region”. Again, that isn’t too far from the truth when you consider that certain countries already prosecute free speech online and have banned VoIP apps and social media.
With the threat of reforming Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act earlier in the year, it looks like the idea of a free internet is already crumbling.
The reform suggested that website owners should be allowed to moderate content without being liable for it. However, critics believe this has little to do with ethical censorship and instead lets private companies selectively edit which content and users they want on their platform.
Internet oppression is a growing problem. As the crisis unfolded in places like Afghanistan, Palestine, and Myanmar, military coups took control of internet providers, and citizens were encouraged to digitize their lives only to have their digital footprint logged in databases to locate and persecute potential targets. As a result, there has been a rush to remove or limit personal data on the internet, including biometrics like fingerprints and facial scan information.
While these predictions may seem like fantasy, we live in an age where our personal data is the new oil for Big Tech companies. Our privacy online, and thereby in life, will rapidly shrink. With our data sprawled across the internet and logged in gigantic corporate databases, it’ll only breed a new wave of cybercrime.
In fact, 2019 was hailed as the worst year ever for data breaches, which involved the theft of billions of pieces of our identities held by some of the world’s most reputable companies. And to make matters worse, the pandemic caused a 300% spike in cybercrime, when millions of us retreated online with little to no cyber-safety knowledge.
With most areas of our lives now based online, and with online crime being at an all-time high, it's worth knowing how to protect yourself. Using a VPN is probably the quickest and easiest way to claim back some of your privacy online. As an app, it hides your traffic, IP address, and stops your ISP from monitoring your activity, and keeps you secure from cybercriminals on public Wi-Fi. All you have to do is switch it on.