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EU asks Europeans what they fear most about the internet

The European Commission is launching a major public consultation – the Next Generation Internet Initiative – to find out what concerns and hopes EU citizens have about the future of the internet.

After high-profile data leaks and reports of major organisations falling prey to cyber-attacks, the fear surrounding internet privacy and security is on the rise.

The European Commission is composed of 28 senior members, with one appointed from each member state of the EU. The survey aims to give European policymakers a comprehensive idea of public priorities. This could be a smart move, given that the commission is frequently attacked for not being directly elected and for being detached from popular attitudes and concerns.

The consultation comprises of a succession of surveys which ask participants about how they think the internet should be governed. Questions cover a range of subjects including net neutrality, privacy, security, blockchain, public understanding of new technology and the impact of the internet on day-to-day life.

It also covers some prickly issues for legislators, such as the rapid expansion of sharing economy platforms like Uber and Airbnb. Uber, for instance, is already facing a European Court of Justice ruling that could result in the company operating under tougher regulations.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, who hopes that the consultation will inspire fresh ideas about how to solve pressing societal problems, said, “Science should be open and freed from its traditional ivory tower: to be discussed, submitted to critique and fed with new perspectives.”

In Juncker’s state of the union speech last September, he called for every town and village to have free Wi-Fi by 2020 - an ambitious target. The European Commission has also urged the telecoms industry to upgrade internet speeds across the continent and the EU’s regulatory powers extend to guaranteeing ‘net neutrality’; ensuring all data on the internet is treated equally. As emerging technologies – such as driverless cars – become commercially available and widespread, EU officials will need to start thinking about how they will be regulated.

The results of the consultation will be compiled in June and will be used to inform supranational internet and technology policies.

“We believe the digital world should respect the same values and rights we enjoy in the physical one,” said Jesús Villasante, of the Communications Networks, Content & Technology arm of the commission. “We also believe Europe has the potential to be a key player in internet matters, even if many important decisions are taken elsewhere.”

The project is being led by REIsearch, a non-profit initiative co-funded by the European Commission. Various newspapers and other publications across Europe are involved in promoting the consultation, including The Lancet, Cell, and the Guardian.

The survey is available here.

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