March 23, 2018

Tim Berners-Lee says regulation of the Web may be needed

13 March 2018, 10:49 | Winston Chapman

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

"This means thinking about how we align the incentives of the tech sector with those of users and society at large, and consulting a diverse cross-section of society in the process", he continued in his public message, which was posted on the same day the World Wide Web turns 29 years old.

On the 29th birthday of the world wide web, its founder Tim Berners-Lee has penned down an interesting perspective about how the web is now exclusively controlled by a handful of companies and how a regulator may soon be needed to monitor it to prevent it from being weaponised at scale.

In his letter, Sir Berners-Lee says the internet we have today is filled with misinformation, political advertising, and loss of control over personal data. "What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms", he wrote. Because "a handful of platforms...control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared", he says, they're ripe for co-opting. While the United Nations has declared internet access as a human right, mobile internet still isn't affordable in many developing countries which deprives many off the opportunities to learn and access valuable services.

But there's another problem that business can't really solve: Closing the digital gap by getting the unconnected onto the internet. That's an entire generation left behind.

"He then goes a bit bonkers and accuses the internet kings of trying to "weaponise the web" for their own gains, with the answer to such manipulation perhaps being a ".legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions".

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Two years ago, the United Nations declared internet access to be a basic human right on par with clean water, shelter, food and electricity.

In many African countries, for example, 1GB of mobile broadband data cost more than 10 percent of the average income, according to a 2016 survey by the Alliance for Affordable Internet. The root of the problem, he says, is that too much power has been concentrated in the hands of too few online corporations.

Berners-Lee's advice for Zuckerberg and the owners of Facebook's rival platforms: Rethink your profit model.

The future of the Web isn't just about those of us who are online today, but also those yet to connect. However, his vision to create an "open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries" has been challenged as the web has become more centralised.

Lastly, Berners-Lee believes there needs to be a greater discussion about the web and how it can be improved. "I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions", he continued. Let's work together to make it possible.

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