The world of the Web – making the Internet a safer place

The Internet is home to 26.6 billion active user accounts (or online residents), and this space is known as the virtual world.

Keep it safe (photo credit: REUTERS)
Keep it safe
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Fact: Today’s global population consists of 7.7 billion individuals extending over 196 countries, with each nation abiding by its own local laws and regulations within the boundaries of what’s known as the physical world, our material environment.
Another fact: The Internet is home to 26.6 billion active user accounts (or online residents), and this space is known as the virtual world.
While the parallel might seem strange, the virtual world is comparable to the Wild West: there are no rules and every user does as they see fit. And unlike the physical world, the virtual world is flat, free of parameters or boundaries – an all-embracing realm that welcomes all cultures and customs, but lacks protocol or standardized processes, rules or practices.
One of humanity’s greatest challenges today is to establish and abide by a standardized, global set of unified laws and regulations within this virtual world.
In an age where technology developers and companies have greater power and impact on citizens worldwide than any individual national leader or figurehead, and where power is united amid several continents, it is critical that the aforementioned concern be prioritized on a serious world issues agenda.
Mark Zuckerberg is currently considering removing the “like” element from all his social networks, which dominate half the planet. This game-changing decision by Zuckerberg will have a significant impact on our daily lives and on our routine, subconscious or conscious decisions. While this is an example of how change can be beneficial, what if we take a moment to consider the threats that can arise from the lack of uniformity and regulations in the virtual world? The laws for Internet usage around the world vary, with enforcement differing from one country to the next, and some of these laws have generated feelings of great distrust among citizens towards their government and national security forces.
A great deal of this scenario is a by-product of absurd circumstances: The access of citizens to online data is controlled and enforced under the non-existent jurisdiction of private technology companies, which implement their own user laws, while collecting and using data as they see fit.
An additional level of the challenge at hand is the matter of privacy. Who does online data actually belong to, and how should it be used?
Below are a number of examples from the physical world illustrating how intelligence organizations are often confused and stopped in their tracks and unable to make progress, while also exemplifying the increasing gap between the physical and the virtual worlds:
Invasion or breach of privacy
Potentially the most sensitive and complicated issue.
There’s substantial tension between governments, law enforcement authorities and security agencies and their citizens in the physical world, particularly with regard to the content these citizens share in the virtual world.
Social media users can expect any content they’ve posted as public to be discoverable and accessible.
Conversations and messages exchanged via communication applications, email and other platforms are intended to be private, as opposed to public.
Some examples of breach or invasion of privacy we’ve become accustomed to in the physical world that safeguard our personal security include:
Airport security: Our baggage is inspected and we undergo physical security checks and pat-downs, both of which are genuinely invasive of our privacy and personal space, but they’ve become the norm and we’ve gotten used to these procedures.
Bag checks: Many public shopping malls, commercial complexes, prestigious venues and luxury hotels perform bag checks as a standard security procedure that we’ve come to accept, despite the blatant invasion of our privacy.
Protests and demonstrations
In order to hold a protest or demonstration of a certain number of participants in the physical world, a police clearance must be requested and obtained, and law enforcement is then arranged to attend and oversee the event accordingly.
In the virtual world, there is no control or governing force over content, and one single post can easily initiate a viral “virtual demonstration,” with thousands to hundreds of thousands of participants.
As citizens of the physical world, it is easy for us to understand – and even accept and justify – the direct correlation between intrusion of our privacy and enforcement of our security.
In the physical world, we drive in accordance with specific traffic laws, some of which are universally accepted and common practice worldwide. Yet, in our parallel universe where we exist as virtual entities and avatars, this attitude suddenly fades into a vague, gray, ambivalent sphere where accepted standards are distorted and rules are deliberately broken.
 Nowadays, Facebook and other social networks cynically decide whether content is acceptable or not according to their own policies, with the purpose of influencing their business models and having the ability to control virtual demonstrations, particularly since most such demonstrations vary from one culture and country to the next. Indeed, we are daily witnesses to blatant conflicts of interest.
THESE TWO prime examples clearly illustrate the massive gap between the virtual world and our physical world of 7.7 billion people. Each country has created and enforced its own set of rules and regulations based on national challenges and requirements, and yet the virtual world continues to blur the distinct lines of these boundaries. It’s an infinite, limitless, flat world in which a message can cross thousands of miles in an instant; a world in which 26 billion “residents” worldwide from different countries with distinct laws must somehow be managed; and it is a world that has a direct impact on the physical world we each live in.
In summary, in a world in which technology is advancing at lightning speed, and regulations are set with political interests at heart, world leaders will have to get together and decide whether the virtual world should be treated as a separate entity – one that requires worldwide laws and agreed upon enforcement in order to make it a safer area where people know who is who, where content is supervised, and where there is a virtual “enforcement agency” that works according to global regulations based on direct contact with the enforcement agencies of each and every country. The technology to implement these steps and prevent overwhelming evil from dominating both worlds exists. The key is to adapt a universal set of regulations that reflect the dynamics of the virtual world, while still providing Internet users with the ability to maintain their “virtual freedom” for a safer, vibrant and clearer vision of our future society.
The writer is the founder and president of Cobwebs Technologies.