Tim Berners-Lee wants to fix the web, 30 years on

Yolanda Curtis
November 9, 2018

English scientist Tim Berners-Lee from the Web Foundation addresses the opening ceremony of the 2018 edition of the annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, November 5, 2018. Speaking at the Web Summit 2018 in Portugal, the British tech genius recounted how he envisaged the Internet as being a platform for sharing information, but the current use of the Internet has digressed from the initial vision that its founders had in mind nearly 30 years ago.

"And when no one expected, the "web" created incredible things", he noted. But Berners-Lee said companies are looking at how to combat those, and sees other reasons to be hopeful: "People in the big companies are concerned about truth and democracy".

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has been trying to fix his creation for quite a few years now, particularly following the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about mass online surveillance.

"What naturally happens is you end up with one company dominating the field, so through history there is no alternative to really coming in and breaking things up", Berners-Lee told Reuters.

The same spirit of collaboration will be used to shape and negotiate the contract as a document using the guiding principles the Web Foundation has laid out. "We believe it offers an important opportunity to step back and examine the responsibilities we all have to make sure the web delivers on its promise", says a spokesperson. "Maybe it's a myth", Berners-Lee said, pushing back on the idea that tech companies need to collect data to be profitable.

Employees of Google, Facebook and other tech giants have in recent months gone public with their regrets, calling the products they helped build harmful to society and overly addictive.

Facebook and Google have backed the contract, which will be agreed in detail next year, despite both companies being mentioned by its creator as examples of how "the web we know and love" is under threat.

The two firms now have direct influence over almost three-quarters of all internet traffic thanks to the vast amounts of apps and services they own such as YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram. The initiative has been joined by over 50 high-profile partners - including Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, alongside those listed earlier - who have signed the contract. The principles for the contract are just the start and will evolve over time.

It is in this context that the creator defends this "contract", which has the motto "By the Web" (or as hashtag '#fortheweb), in order to create values of equity and safety for all internet users. He claims it is the government's responsibility to see that all citizens have internet access.

But at the same time, Berners-Lee's warnings do have weight.

One serves as a reminder that the freedom we enjoy on the Internet today will always be in the crosshairs of those who seek power and profit. Will it be persuasive enough for the Chinese government to be more open?

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