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Thursday, April 16, 1998 Published at 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK


No hiding from the Web

The BBC's Internet correspondent Chris Nuttall reports from Brisbane on the opening day at the seventh annual World Wide Web Conference.

The man who invented the World Wide Web has warned the Internet poses a threat to the privacy of its users as it continues to grow in power.

[ image: Tim Berners-Lee giving the keynote address]
Tim Berners-Lee giving the keynote address
Britain's Tim Berners-Lee told the seventh annual World Wide Web Conference (WWW7) in Brisbane, Australia he was concerned that information tools were becoming more powerful. "We have to be extra careful about how they are used," he said.

Mr Berners-Lee was delivering the main speech of the five-day conference. He conceived the World Wide Web in 1989 as a model of simple access to and sharing of information over the Internet, which was established 20 years earlier in an American Defence Department project. His concepts were popularised from 1992 by the Mosaic browser and its graphical user interface, created by the founders of Netscape.

A platform to prevent prying

[ image: The opening ceremony celebrated the ancient as well as the modern]
The opening ceremony celebrated the ancient as well as the modern
He later became director of the standards body, the World Wide Web Consortium, which he said was now devoting its energies to the privacy problem. This is in the form of a Platform for Privacy Preference (P3P) which will enable Internet users to specify how much, if any, information can be collected from them about what sites they visit, what purchases they make and their other online habits.

Companies on the Internet are becoming more sophisticated in discovering all manner of information on people visiting their sites, often without the user knowing. The data can help deliver information of precise interest to visitors, but it can also be seen as an intrusion.

Governor General wants more Net government

The Brisbane conference, attended by some 1500 academics, scientists and representatives of governments and big business from 34 countries, was opened officially by the Governor General of Australia, Sir William Deane.

He warned the Internet was posing new legal challenges because of its borderless and electronic nature. Questions of contract, defamation, harassment and copyright protection were assuming more importance, he said, and he also cited widespread pornography and the possibilities of cyber-terrorism as other issues that needed to be addressed.

"While national and international legislation is needed to deal with criminal content on the Internet, a degree of consensus is emerging in many parts of the world through industry self-regulation, using codes of conduct, hotlines and labelling schemes," he said.

[ image:  ]
Tribal gathering

The conference began with an Aboriginal dance and music performed on the platform. The logo of WWW7 contains symbols of indigenous art signifying a meeting place for Aborigines. The gathering in Brisbane is of the finest minds involved in the development of the World Wide Web.

Other keynote speakers include James Gosling, the developer of the Java programming language, Cathy Marshall, principal engineer at Xerox Parc, a major research centre, Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future and John Patrick, IBM's Vice President for Internet technology.

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