x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Healthy progress or invasion of privacy?

While the new web code HTML5 is being warmly welcomed by the industry because of its advanced capabilities, there are misgivings about access to personal data.

There are growing fears that the new HTML5 web code represents a threat to personal privacy and internet security.
There are growing fears that the new HTML5 web code represents a threat to personal privacy and internet security.
The internet is about to go through another stage in its rapid evolution, thanks to the development of the web code HTML5, which some in the industry are already calling "the new web".

The next generation of internet browsers will allow users to watch video without downloading extra software, play feature-rich games on mobile devices, check e-mail offline or locate a favourite shop or bar through a smartphone.

Companies will be given far greater reach in targeting new online customers as well as being able to interact more easily with existing customers.

But there are also growing fears that the new web code represents a threat to personal privacy and internet security. HTML5 will allow large volumes of data to be collected and stored on the user's computer.

It is thought that advertisers could be able to see weeks or even months of personal data, including a history of web pages visited. The new web code has also been linked to recent data leaks on social-networking websites.

But HTML5 is rapidly gaining huge industry support. Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft chief executive, sees it playing a central role in the development of Microsoft's "three screens plus cloud" strategy that envisages multimedia services stored on remote computers running across the PC, phone and TV.

"The glue that allows this world to come together and allows for amazing innovation is HTML5," says Mr Ballmer.

Kirk Knoernschild, an analyst at the IT research company Gartner, says: "Today, the primary advantage organisations are realising through HTML5 is the ability to extend the reach of web applications with streaming media to mobile devices. In the future, organisations will explore other aspects of HTML5 that increase the quality of the user experience across a variety of endpoint devices."

The new web code is expected to allow companies across the world to target a wider number of users, despite current drawbacks such as its lack of support for the digital rights management software allowing access to some websites.

"Organisations that seek to increase website reach on a wider variety of endpoint devices, including Apple's iOS devices, should use the HTML5 video element today, unless digital rights management is a concern," says Mr Knoernschild.

Tony Baer, an analyst at the researcher Ovum, thinks the widespread adoption of the new web code will offer a range of new opportunities for content providers.

"HTML5 will provide support for features such as enhanced interactive graphics, Geolocation, and video to provide mobile phone services such as improved gaming or location-based services." says Mr Baer. "That clears the way for companies developing regional content for local markets in regions such as the Middle East."

He believes HTML5 also provides opportunities for companies that deal with the public.

"With HTML5 also moving to PCs and laptops, any company with consumer-facing services will need to consider upgrading its web presence to take advantage of the increased richness and reach offered by HTML5," says Mr Baer.

He also dismisses some media reports that say the new web code will not be fully rolled out before 2020.

"You will start seeing HTML5 being introduced for high-end mobile phones next year," says Mr Baer. "In 2012 it should starting impacting PCs and laptops. According to the World Wide Web Consortium, HTML5 should be pretty well established by 2013 or 2014."

Mr Knoernschild says the new web code may also allow companies greater flexibility in managing their operations.

"There can also be specific business drivers behind why an organisation wants to use HTML5," he says. "For instance, an organisation with a highly mobile and geographically dispersed workforce could leverage the Geolocation application programming interface to provide employee location-based functionality."

But there is also a growing chorus of criticism that the new code may have drawbacks, such as opening new security loopholes in PC networks.

"HTML5 opens a Pandora's box of tracking in the internet," says Pam Dixon, the executive director of the World Privacy Forum in California.

There are fears that a new generation of computer viruses nicknamed "supercookies" could combine traditional tracking tools with new features that come with the new web code.

But analysts believe that there are more serious drawbacks than just another generation of computer viruses.

"HTML5 is being seen as a panacea for web development, providing the universal-rich internet client," says Mr Baer. "However, differences in browser implementations and shortcomings of the spec will prevent HTML5 from being a one-size-fits-all approach to rich internet application development.

"One drawback is that there will be various browser versions of HTML5. Internet Explorer 9, for example, will support its own feature subset of HTML5. Another drawback is that [it] will not support streaming video and that it will still need to be supported by additional plug-ins in the browser."

We are also now entering an interim period in which some users' technology will support HTML5, while others will not. It is considered essential that companies ensure that they do not assume all of their customers have supporting technology.

"Until organisations and consumers upgrade their browsers, incompatibility will be an issue," says Mr Knoernschild. "If the browser doesn't support a specific feature of HTML5, websites should revert to a supported technology on that specific browser version."

Mr Baer believes that initially, developers must treat the new web code with caution before assuming that all users will enjoy all its benefits from day one.

"For developers, HTML5 presents the classic question of rich versus reach. You will get more richness for your reach but not more reach for your richness," he says.

But despite these initial limits and some security fears, the web code will usher in new services, with the internet soon starting to take full advantage of the capacity of smartphones and PCs to interact with multimedia and location-based content.