Who better to offer thoughts on what is wrong with the world wide web today than its founder, Tim Berners-Lee?
The world wide web is celebrating its 28th birthday, but after nearly three years of rapid development, where it has come to encapsulate nearly everything in our lives, its founder, Tim Berners-Lee, believes we are far from living in a perfect world.
To mark the occasion, Berners-Lee issued an open letter through his World Wide Web Foundation, laying out what he describes as the three challenges facing the internet now.
‘Terms and conditions are all or nothing’
The first of the three issues highlighted is that the changing business of the web has resulted in the total loss of control of our personal data and that, as consumers, we are “missing a trick”.
“As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it,” Berners-Lee said.
“What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share – especially with third parties – the terms and conditions are all or nothing.”
He also highlighted the damaging effects of company information being passed on to governments, which results in a “trample on our rights to privacy”.
“It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion,” he said.
Fake news gaming the system
Secondly, Berners-Lee touches on the prevalence of fake news, which became a major talking point following the results of both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president.
In particular, he highlights the fact that some social media sites are making considerable money by getting people to click on fake news articles created from algorithms based on our personal data.
“Through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.”
The final warning from Berners-Lee concerns the amount of money being spent on political advertising online – particularly in the US, but also the world in general.
“Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?”
In his conclusion, Berners-Lee calls on the billions of internet users around the world to collaborate on building the platform that he admits, in many ways, has lived up to his vision.
“I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today,” he said.
“All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community.”