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Berners-Lee: Semantic Web will build in privacy

The project to enable deeper, more particular Web searches is making sure that privacy in included in its architecture, the Web's creator says.

Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee says he is making sure the Semantic Web will respect the privacy of online communications and allow people to control who can use their data.

The Semantic Web, an ongoing project overseen by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), seeks to enable the Web to intelligently interpret what people are seeking when they search the Net.

In one example, computers will data-tag photographs and combine those tags with information from a desktop calendar, so people can ask the Web what the people in the photograph were doing on a particular day.

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

Berners-Lee, who is director of W3C and the person credited with creating the World Wide Web, told ZDNet UK this week that the teams working on the Semantic Web project are making sure privacy principles are included in its architecture.

Semantic Web technology "certainly" will enhance privacy, Berners-Lee said. "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 organizations 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 is geared toward 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 England's 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 analyze their content, which Berners-Lee likens 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."

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.