The Internet could split into a paid, controlled side and a free, "wild" alternative, says a British specialist.
John Carr, who was a featured speaker at the Internet Safety Group's Auckland conference last year, forecasts a possible division in the Internet with tighter control and a consequent rise in cost for producers and consumers who want to stay safe and "respectable".
In his conclusions to a much-discussed paper published earlier this month on Child Abuse, Child Pornography and the Internet, Carr, an Internet consultant at UK children's charity NCH, said:
"The Internet may never be completely and reliably safe all of the time, either for children or anyone else, but through a combination of increased public and parental awareness and improved technical tools we ought to be able to look forward to a time when it is a great deal safer than it is today.
"The alternative seems to be that we could end up with two or more Internets. One will be strictly regulated and controlled. There will be a very high level of certainty about who all the users are and you will pay to use it, over and above the connection, or your ISP's current subscription level.
"Alongside it will also be the Internet we know today – wild and free, but with reducing levels of ecommerce being carried out on it and wholly associated with a subculture of exotic or illegal sex and crime. Respectable people will not acknowledge that they use it, and the world will have lost something very valuable.
"It is not yet too late. But time is rapidly running out."
Carr's conclusions and loud alarms in the report have been applauded by many concerned about Internet safety, but civil liberties champions have criticized the many estimates made in the report, particularly concerning the real extent of online crimes targeting children.