Why the Web Needs More Regulation, Not Less

Mae Love
March 12, 2018

The web, which was created by Tim Berners-Lee on 12 March 1989, is facing major challenges, its inventor warned.

The open letter coincides with a significant milestone: 2018 is the first year that more than half of the world's population will be online.

Under his title as director of the Web Foundation, the British computer expert said the divide between those who have access to the internet and those who don't is "deepening existing inequalities".

"In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access a human right, on par with clean water, electricity, shelter and food", said the 62-year-old British computer scientist.

Discussing the risks of fake news and hacking, he wrote: "The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponise the web at scale".

He predicted that because of the dominance of a few tech companies, "we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last".

The status quo: Berners-Lee points in particular to conspiracy theories, fake news, election meddling, and huge hacks to argue that the web is no longer the "free, open, creative space" it was.

This comprehensive and enlightening perspective about the current state of the word wide web and its future is available at The Guardian.

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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".

He suggested that a legal or regulatory framework that "accounts for social objectives" could help in an industry that's created to maximize profit instead of the "social good". Because "a handful of platforms...control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared", he says, they're ripe for co-opting.

Last year, social media giants, most headquartered in the US, faced intense political pressure after admitting to being exploited by Russian internet trolls to spread misinformation and propaganda during the 2016 presidential election.

"These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors".

He's also anxious about the spread of misinformation, data theft, fake Facebook and Twitter accounts created to stoke social tensions and sway public opinion ahead of political elections.

Berners-Lee goes on to say that the while the dominant platforms have tried to act, "The responsibility - and sometimes burden - of making these decisions falls on companies that have been built to maximise profit more than to maximise social good".

But, Berners-Lee urged there's still more to be done to get everyone connected.

Berners-Lee also commented it's a "myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies" and said it is not too late for media platforms to change. Even though he has been talking about the problems with the web for many years, now he seems to be saying things are at their worst as he referred to the "setbacks of the last two years".

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