Tim Berners-lee Issues Warning About the Internet's Future

Tim Berners-lee Issues Warning About the Internet's Future

It's turning 29 - what do you get the World Wide Web that has everything?

In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access a human right, on par with clean water, electricity, shelter and food. More recently, the internet fueled the success of some of the world's largest tech companies-and, in effect, created their own share of problems like misinformation and the crisis of personal data security.

On the 29th birthday of his invention, Tim Berners-Lee has written an open letter published on the World Wide Web Foundation website in which he outlines the major problems we need to overcome to wrestle our internet back from monopolies, and make it closer to the utopian ideal he envisaged back in 1989. "What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms".

Sir Tim added: "Companies are aware of the problems and are making efforts to fix them - with each change they make affecting millions of people". In his post, he said a "legal or regulatory framework" may be needed to improve accountability, manage social objectives and ease the tensions associated with the modern web.

"I think the biggest challenge to answer is not how, but who has the right to regulate a global internet in this way", Danny O'Brien, worldwide director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. "These are deeply political decisions", Zeynep Tufekci, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote in a widely-shared op-ed for Wired in January.

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But Berners-Lee opines that the companies which have become the web's gatekeepers can not be relied on to fix the problem, thanks to loyalty to their shareholders rather than society at large.

"Two myths now limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it's too late to change the way platforms operate", he wrote. On both points, we need to be a little more creative. Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users - more than 20 times more than MySpace at its peak.

"The Web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today", Berners-Lee noted. Furthermore, he lays out his desire to have more people involved from across business, tech, government, civil society, the arts, and academia in discussions around the future of the web and not those that control it.

The rest of Berners-Lee's letter contends with global inequality of internet access, focusing on those who aren't connected, and those who only nominally are. He also urged supporting policies that help women and the poor to have access to the web, plus the skills to compete in today's digital world. And at the beginning of this year the UN Broadband Commission launched 2025 targets (ITU), including adopting the Alliance for Affordable Internet's threshold for affordability target, which says entry-level broadband services should be less than two percent of average monthly incomes. "That's an entire generation left behind", Berners-Lee warned. He concluded: "I want to challenge us all to have greater ambitions for the web".

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