Web Index

1.8 Billion Internet Users Have Little or No Right to Online Privacy: Web Index

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The Web Index rankings released Thursday measure social, political and economic benefit countries around the world get from the web. Wealthy Scandinavian countries and the UK continue to dominate the index with the US coming in sixth.

Starting in 2012, the World Wide Web Foundation began to produce this index based on data to measure the web’s contribution to the world in the areas of social, political and economic progress in each country.

When web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee and CERN didn’t patent the web it led to the possibility that it could create a worldwide level-playing field with unprecedented access to information. “Today, armed with little more than a smartphone, anyone — regardless of where they were born or how much they earn — can start a business, record a music video, crowdfund an invention, take courses with Nobel Prize-winning professors, or even launch a successful campaign for office,” the report said.

Political censorship is increasing with about 40 percent of countries blocking political or socially sensitive content, up from 32 percent last year. There is lack of net neutrality in 74 percent of countries. Net neutrality has been a particularly hot topic in the US lately with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) basically taking matters into its own hands rather than listening to the more than a million public comments that were sent to the agency. Only one percent of the US public is opposed to net neutrality, according to the Sunlight Foundation report.

Governments have enough money to invest in the control of the web and have been affecting what people are able to post online. Due to state-sponsored censorship, at least 1.8 billion Internet users have little or no right to privacy or freedom of expression.

“Legal safeguards against government snooping on our communications were eroded or bypassed in many countries in the past year, with 84 percent of Web Index countries failing our test for basic privacy safeguards, up from 63 percent in the 2013 Index,” according to the report. For example, the UK passed emergency legislation in July to give law enforcement access to phone and internet records.

The report listed three ways in which the web has the capacity to balance inequality: access to knowledge, political participation and lowering barriers to new businesses innovation and creation.

According to webindex.org, the index measures and ranks:

  • Universal Access: This sub-Index measures whether countries have invested in affordable access to high quality internet infrastructure, as well as investing in the education and skills citizens need to use the Web well.
  • Freedom and Openness: This sub-Index assesses the extent to which citizens enjoy rights to information, opinion, expression, safety and privacy online.
  • Relevant Content: This sub-Index maps both Web use by citizens and the content available in each country, with an emphasis on the extent to which different stakeholders can access information that is relevant to them, in the language that they are most comfortable using and via platforms and channels that are widely available.
  • Empowerment: This sub-Index aims to assess the difference that the Web is making to people, and the extent to which use of the Web by stakeholders is fostering positive change in four key areas: society, economy, politics and environment.

The report also notes that “one in five female Internet users live in countries where harassment and abuse of women online is extremely unlikely to be punished.”

With access to the internet still unavailable to about 4.4 billion people, it’s not surprising that the countries with the highest Web Index correlate with higher per capita income. That’s why it’s important to support programs such as Project Loon, SpaceX and Internet.org which all seek to use creative technologies such as satellite, balloons and drones to cover the world with Internet access. Cost of basic Internet in the poorest countries is ten times the cost of that in richer countries with use that is ten times lower.

“This sets a very clear challenge for the international community. People living in poverty must be able to use the web to improve their lives and their communities every bit as much as affluent groups. The steep slope on the graph needs to be flattened out, making the Web truly ‘for everyone’,” said the report. “Unless and until that happens, the web can’t become an effective weapon to fight poverty and inequality globally. Indeed, it may even contribute to worsening inequality.”

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