Can Tim Berners-Lee’s Contract for the Web save the internet?

25 Nov 2019

Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Foundation. Image: Philip Toscano/PA

Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the internet as we know it, has drawn up a Contract for the Web that he believes could prevent a digital dystopia.

World wide web founder Tim Berners-Lee has warned of a “digital dystopia” with the launch of a global action plan aimed at tackling misuse of the web. The British computer scientist unveiled a string of standards in Berlin today (25 November), over fears of ever-increasing online threats, such as election interference, harassment, invasion of privacy and the spread of disinformation.

Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation has put together a ‘Contract for the Web’, calling on governments, companies and the public to ensure the web is a safe, free and open platform for all. The commitment has been backed by hundreds of organisations, including Google and Facebook, and sets out nine key principles.

“The power of the web to transform people’s lives, enrich society and reduce inequality is one of the defining opportunities of our time,” Berners-Lee explained.

“But if we don’t act now, and act together, to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering that potential.

“The Contract for the Web gives us a roadmap to build a better web. But it will not happen unless we all commit to the challenge. Governments need to strengthen laws and regulations for the digital age. Companies must do more to ensure pursuit of profit is not at the expense of human rights and democracy.

“And citizens must hold those in power accountable, demand their digital rights be respected and help foster healthy conversation online. It’s up to all of us to fight for the web we want.”

The plan tells governments to ensure everyone can connect to the internet, that access is not deliberately denied and to respect and protect people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights. Companies are told they should make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone, respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data, as well as develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.

Internet for the world

Meanwhile, citizens are urged to be creators and collaborators on the web, build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity, and fight for the web.

Speaking to the PA news agency, World Wide Web Foundation president and chief executive Adrian Lovett said one of the biggest concerns is that just under half the world has no access to the web at all.

“For those who do have the web, it has become much more complicated in the last few years, and I think the key issues there include the problem of disinformation, the challenge of data breaches and lack of security over our data and control over our data, and also governments in parts of the world increasingly closing down or censoring the web or parts of the internet around periods of unrest or elections and so on,” he said.

“We will have a process going forward after the launch of the contract to ensure that we track progress of all of those who have signed on, and others too who haven’t, and report that progress, make sure it’s public, make sure that we’re able to see who is going in the right direction and who is not.”

In March, Berners-Lee called on people to think about the sort of web they want, as he marked the 30th anniversary of his invention.

– PA Media