Web 3.0 and privacy

In order to understand why privacy and personal data are so vulnerable in relation with the Internet and its adjacent services/platforms, E-Crime Expert developed a research study, aiming to learn what the Internet is, how it works, what Social Networking Services are and how they came into place, why SNS are so popular, how private information can be retrieved from SNS users, what is the purpose for targeting and behavioral advertising and what cloud computing is.  Today, Web 3.0 is a first post in a series that aims to understand the cause in order to provide a better effect (better privacy).

E-Crime Expert believes that users’ awareness and online education help protect their privacy and personal data. For these reasons, my research interest in the use of social network services (SNS) and search engines began when I realized that many options and features of the SNS I use (i.e. Facebook) or search engines (i.e. Google), are questionable from the user’s privacy and data protection perspective. I believe that a more in depth understanding of the their functionality, usage and applications on the newly emerging Web 3.0 (also known as Semantic Web) could help users protect their private information and personal data.

Privacy and protection of personal data are increasingly discussed and analyzed by law enforcement, advocacy groups, industry and academics, legal practitioners, and policy makers. In my previous research (LLM) Thesis, I tried answer the question: if the SNS, Facebook, is in compliance with the European Union’s Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC. Furthermore, I am trying to better understand what Web 3.0 is and how operates.

With the immersion of Web 3.0 personal data and private information cannot be fully controlled. Soon (service) providers, by employing Artificial Intelligence, may be capable to predict what people want regarding a particular search query, products or services, in order to be deliver one single choice which it supposed to be the choice sought by the user. But would this be done at the expense of privacy? It’s important for policy makers and lawmakers to be aware of these challenges in order to keep up with the continuous technological developments.

What is Web 3.0?

Tim Berners-Lee (the director of the World Wide Web Consortium which oversees the Web’s continued development, also founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, and senior researcher and holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) has described the semantic web as a component of Web 3.0.

Computer scientists see that Web 3.0 will be more application based by functioning on “non-browser applications and non-computer based devices…but… geographic or location-based information retrieval” while using Artificial Intelligence.

Short review of the web’s development:

Web 1.0

For example, Hotmail or Yahoo’s services were all about read-only content and static HTML websites. People navigated the web through link directories of Yahoo, Hotmail or AOL! A walled garden, a portal where the user stopped and “found” everything they needed (or the provider gave them). There was no choice for users to upload their content on those portals, such as pictures or videos, and also not much choice for others to use them with or without authorization (of course excluding hackers).

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is the user-generated web content. Users are consuming as well as contributing information through blogs, vlogs, picture sharing like Picasa or video websites like YouTube, etc. Consumers, content publishers and users are continually becoming more of the same entity. The Web seems apparently open for anyone to contribute, modify and improve but actually it is not like that because these information appliances providers such as Facebook, deliver the platform, products and services of their choice in a closed-capsule form. It is also a walled garden (rather a prison which looks like a park), but better and more efficient controlled, manipulated and “supervised”.

Web 3.0.

Also known as the semantic web where the data has its own meaning in order to deliver observational, behavioral and tailored content/advertising to individuals rather than to “crowds” by using searches and preferences made by users. Web searches would generate local results for user’s geographical area and would include websites that it “thinks” the user would like to see. Seems convenient at a first glance, but it also appears to be an invasion of users’ privacy.

Web 3.0 and Privacy

In the Web 1.0, users had control over their information by exchanging it strictly over email or on web portals (Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail) to designated recipients. In Web 2.0 the users also had more or less control of their own information by choosing which account or website where they will post videos and photos, or delete and modify these photos or videos. However, in the Web 3.0 case there is no guarantee on how users’ information is monitored, retrieved, aggregated and by who and where it is used. This Web 3.0 brings the users’ web experience to a different level where the users themselves have less and less control over their information and content.

Nonetheless that the opportunities Web 3.0 could offer are promising (faster interaction, more tailored content, services/info based on geographical location etc), these opportunities also come in a package with concerns regarding users’ personal information already available on the web, and moreover that no one really knows where this information is stored (data centers), how is exchanged/transferred (cloud computing), who controls/access it (service provider and third parties?), and what those that control and access do with the users’ data. A legitimate question is (which I have no answer for): who has control over the data about our everyday lives?  

Ultimately, those new opportunities that Web 3.0 offers will can be safely used when reliable methods for controlling the storage, access, usage, transfer, purpose, and privacy of the data will come into place either through regulatory measures, self-regulations, better enforcement, or privacy by design and users’ education.

For me the perspective of having a smart phone, laptop, PDA, my SNS account, a website which shares information they know about me feels threatening. Why?

Because a smart phone, laptop, PDA, website, online store, social networking platform, can know my home address, personal details, contact details, financial details, bank account number, login and password information, search queries, personal preferences (movies I like, music I listen to, restaurants I eat at, pubs I go to, close friends, etc), and even more personal details.

The Web 3.0 could make it easier for users to find what they are looking for online but also it could eventually go so far to the point where users will be showed/told what they like, how they dress, what to eat, and where to go and thus having less or even no control on their own preferences. Once providers or advertisers know someone’s preferences, they will deliver that particular service or advertising as being the user’s choice and it would then not matter what a user actually wants or prefers because the choices will be limited based on their preferences (previous online activity).

But the situation could be less dramatic than it sounds as long as the users know what to share in their online “life”. There will be less chances for one to know what a user likes to eat, watch or visit if that user will not make it public online or would share the least amount of personal preferences as possible. Of course this is not enough, as nowadays providers and advertisers seem to be following or “stalking” users online like one would physically chase a person in the real life. But in the meantime providing less or no information about ourselves has more chances for us to not be “labeled”. If this is the case with Web 3.0, I am concerned thinking about what Web 4.0 will be like.

For this reason, try to take care of your personal information and data now as a wise future investment when or if the Web 4.0 will come into place.

Stay tunned for the next post in this series which will present the history of SNS.

Any questions can be submitted to: dan@e-crimeexpert.com

Additional information can be found at: www.e-crimeexppert.com

Did you know what Web 3.0 is? What do you think about Web 3.0? Are you expecting a Web 4.0 as well?

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  1. Radu
    October 3, 2011 at 17:41

    Nice article.

  2. Radu
    October 3, 2011 at 17:51

    “…nowadays providers and advertisers seem to be following or “stalking” users online like one would physically chase a person in the real life. ”

    This is true, the possibilities are there. However, the way data is used by advertising providers is as an aggregate of visitor/customer info, in a way similar to how data gathered by those who publish oppinion polls. In most cases this is marketing research with the purpose of identifying trends and tailoring ads to customer’s interests.
    Some of the licenses/terms of service however, not the least those of social networks, do indeed sound scary if you read them in their entirety. If memory serves right, Facebook changed their terms of service in the past due to customer complaints with regard to how personal data is used.

  3. Dan Manolescu
    October 3, 2011 at 19:28

    Thank you Radu for your comments. Indeed you are right with how the data is gathered but still when one participated in an opinion poll at least he/she is aware of. Which is not the case with Facebook. I am publishing another post on how users’ data is retrieved by using NodeXL and how that data was available on Torrent.

  4. February 12, 2014 at 02:51

    This is very interesting, You are a very skilled
    blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post.

    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

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