Tim Berners-Lee Has a Plan to Save The World Wide Web He Invented
The inventor of the World Wide Web doesn't like what he's seen it becoming, and has proposed a contract that involves a number of parties.
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The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has launched a plan to build a “Contract for the Web” as part of a global campaign to defend a free and open web for everyone. Speaking tonight, at the opening of the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Sir Tim unveiled a set of principles that define responsibilities that governments, companies, and citizens each have to create a better web.
According to the World Wide Web Foundation, the free and open web faces real challenges. More than half the world’s population still can’t get online. For the other half, the web’s benefits come with too many risks: to our privacy, our democracy, our rights. That’s why we’re launching a global campaign to connect everyone to a web that works for people.
The contract process and its starting principles have received high-level backing from over 50 organizations. They include the French government, campaigners and policy specialists Access Now, Digital Empowerment and companies including Google, AnchorFree, Cloudflare and Facebook. Individuals supporting the contract include Sir Richard Branson, US Congressman Ro Khanna, and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
It's notable that Google and Facebook, in particular, have faced heavy criticism and legal censure over the last year. Google has been heavily criticized for developing a censored search engine for the Chinese market called Dragonfly that would tie Chinese users’ Google searches to their personal phone numbers. The project was revealed in August when employees published an open letter, criticizing Google, with the claim many employees didn't even know that they were involved in building a search engine for the Chinese, as much of the work was done in fragments. This week Google CEO Sundar Pichai hit back this week, claiming the search engine was nothing more than "an experiment."
Urgent Action is Needed
The World Wide Web foundation launched a report coinciding with the contract, The Case for the Web, outlining the urgent action needed to tackle these risks, covering issues including hate speech, data privacy, political manipulation and the centralization of power online among a small group of companies. According to the report, the threats facing the web today are many and multi-faceted. Over half the world’s population is still offline, and the growth of people coming online is slowing dramatically. The distributed power of the web has shifted to lay in the hands of just a few, online abuse is on the rise, and the content we see is increasingly susceptible to manipulation. Over 1.2 billion internet users live in countries where net neutrality is not protected, and more than 1.5 billion people live in countries with no comprehensive law on personal data protection, leaving them particularly vulnerable to increasingly common incidents involving breaches of personal data.
Speaking from Web Summit, Sir Tim said:
“The web is at a crucial point. More than half the world’s population remains offline, and the rate of new people getting connected is slowing. Those of us who are online are seeing our rights and freedoms threatened. We need a new Contract for the Web, with clear and tough responsibilities for those who have the power to make it better. I hope more people will join us to build the web we want.”
Under the Contract For The Web:
Ensure everyone can connect to the internet so that anyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can participate actively online.
Keep all of the internet available, all of the time so that no one is denied their right to full internet access.
Respect people’s fundamental right to privacy so everyone can use the internet freely, safely and without fear.
Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone so that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web.
Respect consumers’ privacy and personal data so people are in control of their lives online.
Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst so the web really is a public good that puts people first.
Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.
Adrian Lovett, President & CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation said:
“For three decades we’ve seen the tremendous good that the web can deliver. As we work to expand its benefits to everyone, we need to make sure the web serves humanity, not the other way round. This can’t be accomplished by any one company or country alone. It’ll take all of us — debating, negotiating and collaborating to shape a better web.”
The ambition to build a Contract for the Web recognizes that the challenges facing the web demand commitments from a range of actors, from the companies building web technologies to the policymakers defining laws and regulations, and the billions of people using the web every day. But can it lead to meaningful action and change or is it simply endemic of a 'tick a box' mentality when it comes to corporate social responsibility? Will corporates like Facebook and Google follow through with actions or merely offer lipservice? Color me skeptical until proven otherwise.
Individuals can sign on to support the contract at www.webfoundation.org/fortheweb. Organizations and governments can endorse the contract at www.contractfortheweb.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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