Berners-Lee: Semantic Web will have privacy built-in

The Semantic Web will be able to enforce privacy policies set by web users, according to Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said that the Semantic Web will make the privacy of online communications stronger, and will allow people to control who can use their data. 

The Semantic Web, a project overseen by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), seeks to make the World Wide Web intelligently interpret what people are looking for when they are searching the internet. For example, computers would data-tag photographs and combine those tags with information from a desktop calendar, so people would be able to ask the web what the people in the photograph were doing on a particular day.

However, researchers have warned that the combination of personal information could lead to privacy compromises, including increased data mining.

Berners-Lee, who is director of W3C, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that the teams working on the Semantic Web project are making sure privacy principles are included in its architecture.

"Certainly, Semantic Web technology will [enhance privacy]," said Berners-Lee. "The Semantic Web project is developing systems which will answer where data came from and where it's going to — the system will be architectured for a set of appropriate uses."

Another principle of the Semantic Web is that people who make a web request for personal information being held by third parties, such as companies and government agencies, will be able to see all the data those organisations hold on them, according to Berners-Lee.

"W3C wants to help make sure data use is appropriate," he said. "Sometimes, it's a serious question who should have what access [to information]."

In addition, the project will include accountable data-mining components, which let people know who is mining the data, and its teams are looking at making the web adhere to privacy preferences set by users. The whole project was geared towards privacy enhancement, Berners-Lee said. The teams "are building systems to be aware of different data uses", he said.

ZDNet UK spoke to Berners-Lee at an event at the House of Lords designed to draw attention to the use of deep packet inspection by internet service providers and third parties. The technique intercepts data packets sent over the internet to analyse their content, which Berners-Lee likened to the postal service opening the mail it is charged with delivering.

"When people built the internet, it was designed to be a cloud," said Berners-Lee. "When routing packets, the system only looks at the envelope — it's an important design principle. Now people find out what you write in your letters."

Editorial standards