The Biggest Threats to the Free Web
One of the fundamental truths of the web, or the World Wide Web as it was originally called, is that it was intended to be free for all. Anyone who could manage to get Internet access would unlock a rich world of information and media without any hindrances. Today, that fundamental principle is being threatened by individuals and organizations with other agendas.
1. Software Patents
No one can own the web, but many companies are attempting to slice it up and own the very concepts that form the web. Software patents, unlike standard patents for inventions, do not actually involve the creation of tangible objects. Instead the U.S. patent office has handed out patents for ideas like the double-click or the use of a single button to make a purchase.
While the European Union has taken a more aggressive stance against software patents, the U.S. is now entangled in them with major companies like Google and Apple battling it out through proxy lawsuits. One firm, Eolas Technologies, claims to own the patent for the "interactive web" and threatens to undermine the very freedom of the web itself.
2. Corporate Buyouts
At one time, some of the most popular sites on the web were run by individuals or small companies with an interest in providing web users with a quality experience. Today, many of those popular sites are now owned by CBS Interactive, AOL, and other major corporations.
That a corporation owns a website is not in itself a bad thing, but when those corporations want to dictate how the web is regulated and who has access to the information, they become threats to web freedom.
One of the most frightening examples of corporate buyouts affecting web freedom are the mergers of Internet service providers (ISPs) with content providers. For example, Comcast's merger with NBC Universal immediately threatened companies like Netflix and their ability to send streaming content to users.
3. Ubiquitous Non-Standard Technology
Certain websites have a tremendous influence over the web. That is not necessarily a problem, as companies like Google still use standard free and open technology to provide their web services. But when a company like Facebook gains ubiquity, there is a serious danger of the web being trapped in non-standard, non-free technology.
The best example of this is the Facebook commenting system. Many blogs have replaced their commenting systems completely with Facebook's. This means, if you want to comment on their blog, you cannot use your OpenID or simply an email address; you must register with Facebook and agree to all of its commercial terms of service, simply to participate in what should be a free web discussion. As of now, Facebook has not done anything to damage the free web, but corporations are subject to change whenever financial interests draw them in another direction. That applies to Google and other corporations as well.
Maintaining Web Freedom
The good thing about the Web is that it is ultimately not dependent on any one company or organization. Even if the corporations of the world joined forces to create a commerce-based web, the users could simply avoid those services and continue using the free web on their own.
As long as there is still a way to access it, the web will continue to have a life of its own, uninhibited by anything those with ill intentions might throw at it.