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ECS professors warn of privacy intrusions on the Web

Published: 13 March 2009

Speaking at Westminster this week, Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned of the potential dangers if companies are allowed to monitor individuals' searches of the Web.

'We use the internet without a thought that a third party would know what we have just clicked on," Sir Tim said, addressing a meeting of MPs, peers and technology professionals, organized by the All Parliamentary Group on Communications to address online privacy issues. Politicians and legislators are concerned about the potential risks from 'behavioural advertising' where Web users' searches are monitored and shared with companies.

Sir Tim was taking part in the meeting with Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. All three ECS professors are also Founder Directors of the Web Science Research Initiative.

Sir Tim said that people revealed very sensitive details about themselves while using the Web and their privacy must be preserved. 'What is at stake is the integrity of the Internet as a communications medium,' he said.

Professor Hall appealed to Parliament to protect internet users’ privacy. 'There are lots of good reasons why companies and government want access to our data but there are huge downsides to that,' she said. 'This debate is about our digital lives. It is about who we are, what we are interested in and what is private to us.'

Issues such as this will be discussed at Europe's first Web Science conference, taking place in Athens next week, from 18 to 20 March. 'Society On-line' is the theme of the conference which will bring together computer scientists and social scientists from around the world.

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