May 6, 2011
The World Wide Web Consortium is to develop Web standards to enable direct peer-to-peer communications between Web browsers, without the need to go through centralized Web servers.
By Tom Espiner
The Web standards could make it more difficult for repressive government action against Web communications, according to members of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) working group assigned to developing the Web standards. The group aims to define APIs that will allow Web browsers to communicate using audio, video and "supplementary" real-time communications, W3C said on Thursday.
"W3C today launched a new Web Real-Time Communications Working Group to define client-side APIs to enable real-time communications in Web browsers," the W3C said.
The APIs should allow applications that can be run inside a Web browser without extra downloads or plug-ins. The APIs will be programming-language agnostic, a W3C spokesman said on Friday.
Web browser company Opera is a member of the working group, Opera chief standards officer Charles McCathieNevile told on Friday. Opera platform architect Rich Tibbett is the main contact with the group.
According to Opera, real-time peer-to-peer Web communications will make it more difficult for government repression of communications, as seen in North Africa and the Middle East, where official measures have ranged from the blocking of Web sites like Facebook and Twitter to taking the entire country of Egypt off the Web.
"We are attempting to use peer-to-peer systems, so there's not a single shutdown point at a Web server - communications are much more ad hoc," said Tibbett. Charles McCathieNevile of W3C added that it is "very much easier to block a specific Web site than blocking communications across the Web."
Criminals and law enforcement will still be able to intercept Web communications even if the communications are encrypted, Tibbett said, explaining:
"Peer-to-peer Web browser communications are not going to stop the problem of sniffing, but will make it harder to sniff traffic."
Analyst Andy Buss of Freeform Dynamics also said the proposed Web standards would not stop governments forcing deep-packet inspection of Web communications and blocking encrypted peer-to-peer Web traffic. "It does start to depend on the co-operation of the ISP," he said. "If they detect peer-to-peer SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Web traffic, they could block the Web traffic."
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