W3C to develop peer-to-peer browser standards

The APIs, which will allow real-time peer-to-peer audio- and video-streaming, should make it more difficult for repressive governments to crack down on internet communications

The World Wide Web Consortium is to develop standards to enable direct peer-to-peer communications between browsers, without the need to go through centralised servers.

The standards could make it more difficult for repressive government action against web communications, according to members of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) working group assigned to developing the standards. The group aims to define APIs that will allow browsers to communicate using audio, video and "supplementary" real-time communications, W3C said on Thursday.

"W3C today launched a new Web Real-Time Communications Working Group to define client-side APIs to enable real-time communications in web browsers," the W3C said.

The APIs should allow applications that can be run inside a browser without extra downloads or plug-ins. The APIs will be programming-language agnostic, a W3C spokesman told ZDNet UK on Friday.

Browser company Opera is a member of the working group, Opera chief standards officer Charles McCathieNevile told ZDNet UK on Friday. Opera platform architect Rich Tibbett is the main contact with the group.

According to Opera, real-time peer-to-peer web communications will make it more difficult for government repression of communications, as seen in North Africa and the Middle East, where official measures have ranged from the blocking of Facebook and Twitter to taking the entire country of Egypt off the internet.

We are attempting to use peer-to-peer systems, so there's not a single shutdown point at a server — communications are much more ad hoc.

– Rich Tibbett

"We are attempting to use peer-to-peer systems, so there's not a single shutdown point at a server — communications are much more ad hoc," said Tibbett. McCathieNevile added that it is "very much easier to block [a specific website] than blocking communications across the web".

Criminals and law enforcement will still be able to intercept web communications even if the communications are encrypted, Tibbett said, explaining: "[Peer-to-peer browser communications] are not going to stop the problem of sniffing, but will make it harder to sniff traffic."

Analyst Andy Buss of Freeform Dynamics also said the proposed standards would not stop governments forcing deep-packet inspection of web communications and blocking encrypted peer-to-peer traffic. "It does start to depend on the co-operation of the ISP," he said. "If they detect peer-to-peer SSL [Secure Sockets Layer] traffic, they could block [the traffic]."

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