There is no denying that the world wide web has revolutionized every aspect of modern society, from business to communication to entertainment. With the spread of high-speed internet across the entire globe, information is more accessible than ever before.

But online life comes with just as many risks as it does advantages. The invention of email led to the spread of spam, and the movement towards online banking and shopping created new categories of financial fraud. To date, these vulnerabilities have not slowed down the growth of the internet. But perhaps that is on the verge of changing.

Online security and privacy now dominate the news on a regular basis. Reports of hacking and data breaches have become commonplace, whether they originate from individual cybercriminals or large international agencies. Governments themselves have been found to be constantly surveying their own citizens’ actions online.

So what will the internet look like in 2028? Will the average person still be active on social networks and web applications? It’s hard to imagine the web ever collapsing entirely, but for certain there is change on the road ahead.

Zero Trust Security

These days, individual consumers need to assume their personal information is vulnerable on the web, regardless of what assurances a site or company tries to offer. Data breaches can occur either as the result of an internal error or an external attack. Either way, the loss or exposure of user data is a damaging event.

A cybersecurity study from IBM shows that data breaches commonly result in a digital company losing one to four percent of its customers. This might not sound like a huge effect, but such a drop in customer confidence can lead to decreased revenues in the range of millions of dollars.

In the early days of the world wide web, many new computer users were skeptical about entering their credit cards, social security numbers, and other identifying information into an online application. That fear dissipated for many years once the internet matured, but moving forward into the future, there’s a real risk that such trepidation could return to society.

Internet of Things

Part of what makes today’s internet so intimidating is the fact that it can be nearly impossible to every truly disconnect. Desktop computers and laptops are now just one small facet of the online world, as most modern consumers have a smartphone, tablet, and dozens of other internet-connected objects in their home.

Internet of Things (IoT) has represented an industrial shift towards smart devices that are always online. Refrigerators, washing machines, coffee makers, and even light bulbs now are sold with wi-fi connectivity built in. These devices seek to simplify daily life and make basic tasks less cumbersome, but they also carry their own level of risk.

Every device that connects to the public internet can be tracked, whether it’s through an IP address, MAC address, or GPS coordinates. Where this tracking information is stored and shared is a mystery to most consumers, and that represents a major privacy concern. In the future, the IoT movement will have to prioritize security measures in order to maintain the trust of customers.

Collision of Privacy and Advertising

Most companies that track users’ personal information online will claim that they do not use the data for any immoral or illegal purposes. And while that may very well be true, in reality their business model is likely built around the information they gather. That’s how targeted advertising works on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the other largest platforms on the web.

The trade-off has always been described as this: if customers want to continue using online services for free, then they have to be willing to surrender basic personal information for the purposes of ads. Perhaps a change to that philosophy is coming, as consumers become more concerned with their online privacy. If a shift does occur, digital companies will need to look for new revenue models and scale back their free software offerings.

A Divided Internet

Although the internet is usually pictured as an open global network, the truth is that different companies restrict the web in different ways. Some filter web traffic and prevent citizens from accessing certain sites or applications. In addition, surveillance is always in play as governments look to monitor activity for potential security threats.

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, has theorized that the internet of the future could actually be split into separate entities. China in particular has very strict controls over their citizens’ online habits and could potentially build their own closed network down the road.

The European Union has already taken steps to differentiate itself when it comes to online privacy. With the release of General Data Protection Regulation, the EU now requires websites to disclose what private information they store and seek user acceptance before doing so. The GDPR rules apply to any company or site that have an online presence within the EU.

A Blockchain Future

Above all else, internet users are most concerned with the security of their money and financial information online. The recent rise in popularity of digital currencies like Bitcoin add an interesting element to the conversation. These new types of transactions may seem risky, but in fact they are considered to be secure thanks to the fact that cryptocurrencies have no single bank or application governing them. Instead, they operate on blockchain technology that is constantly verifying each transaction through a system of distributed algorithms.

The concept of a blockchain is already being expanded into other areas, such as digital ownership and rights management. By 2028, it could take over even more of the internet, reducing the need for central authorities to host private data. How that will change life for internet users remains to be seen, but it offers hope for a secure and safe digital future.