The World Wide Web marks 30 years today on March 12, 2019, and the founder and inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has written a post on this occasion, highlighting the importance of an open web, calling the fight for the web as one of the most important causes. He also said that tech companies cannot sacrifice human rights for profits.
“Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity,” he writes in a post shared on WebFoundation.org website.
His post outlines the problems with the web today and what could be the future. While he acknowledges that the web has been misused, he says, “it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30.”
“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web,” adds the World Wide Web inventor.
For tech companies, he outlines they need to ensure that the pursuit of profit cannot come “at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety,” adding that “platforms and products must be designed with privacy, diversity and security in mind.”
“This year, we’ve seen a number of tech employees stand up and demand better business practices. We need to encourage that spirit,” he wrote.
He also says that the web needs to be be recognised as human right and built for public good. “This is why the Web Foundation is working with governments, companies and citizens to build a new Contract for the Web,” explains Berners-Lee.
The new contract for the web was launched in Lisbon at Web Summit in 2018, which establishes some clear norms, laws and standards for the web. According to him, this ‘Contract for the Web’ will have to be the work of governments, companies and citizens and that the aim is to have a final result later this year.
When Berners-Lee original proposed the web, it was supposed to be an information management system, while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research or CERN. The web as we know it today evolved from this.
In his post, he has outlined three major problems impacting the web today. The first, according to him, is deliberate and malicious intent, where he also includes state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour and online harassment.
The second is system designs, where users are scarified and the focus is on ad-based revenue by rewarding clickbait content, and the viral spread of misinformation. The third is “unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.”
According to Berners-Lee, while the first problem is “impossible to eradicate completely,” laws and code can be created to reduce this behaviour. For the second problem, he proposes that systems have to be redesigned in a way that the incentive is changed completely, from the current one where clickbait is rewarded.
For the final category, he says research is needed to understand the existing systems and “model possible new ones or tweak those we already have.” According to him, blaming one government or social network for the problems of the web would be a “simplistic narrative.”
On the responsibility of governments in the digital age, the World Wide Web Inventor, says they need to make sure that markets are “competitive, innovative and open.” He also says that governments need to protect “people’s rights and freedoms online.” He also calls on citizens to hold both “companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make.”