A report by the influential Joseph Rowntree Foundation has claimed that the internet is increasing the gap between society's richest and poorest people.
The report has looks at the effect of Internet-based Neighbourhood Information Systems (IBNIS), which allow people to select an area to live in based on the schools, housing and income profiles of residents. It fears that the UK will become increasingly split between people clustering into 'good' neighbourhoods of similar individuals.
"Given what we know about the benefits of mixed-income communities in promoting social cohesion, it is important that greater public access to the 'social sorting' technology used by market research does not pull in the opposite direction and lead to even greater segregation between communities," said Professor Roger Burrows, who led the research team from the Universities of York and Durham.
"We already have a 'digital divide' in Britain between those whose internet access makes them information-rich and those whose inability to afford computers or fast web connections makes them information-poor. But it seems only a matter of time before the kind of powerful neighbourhood search sites available in the United States start to reinforce the divide between the more and less prosperous locations in the UK."
He continued that while no-one wanted to ban such websites, their use needed to be monitored in case they had an overly negative effect. He said that in the past 15 years there has already been a decline in community diversity and the use of IBNIS would only make this worse.