ibusinesslines.com March 18, 2018

WWW inventor says the Web is "under threat"

13 March 2018, 10:49 | Myron Mathis

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989, believes that the problems that tech giants face today have grown beyond their abilities to fix them alone.

The open letter comes a year after Mr Berners-Lee called for tighter regulation of online political advertising, which he said was being used in "unethical ways".

Berners-Lee accused the web titans of stifling innovation by snapping up startups and controlling which "ideas and opinions are shared and seen".

"Unsurprisingly, you're more likely to be offline if you are female, poor, live in a rural area or a low-income country, or some combination of the above", writes the 62-year old inventor of the internet, hinting that we need to close the digital divide that seems to be deepening, dividing people who have internet access from those who do not.

But there's another problem that business can't really solve: Closing the digital gap by getting the unconnected onto the internet. "That's an entire generation left behind", he wrote.

These online gatekeepers can lock in their power by acquiring smaller rivals, buying up new innovations and hiring the industry's top talent, making it harder for others to compete, he said. While this is the year we'll pass the tipping point where over half the world's population is online, a big question mark remains on how the second part joins the party - assuming it remains an aspiration worth keeping. The target has been set - the United Nations recently adopted the Alliance for Affordable Internet's threshold for affordability: 1GB of mobile data for less than 2 percent of average monthly income.

Platform power has made it possible for people to "weaponize the web at scale", he says.

And finally, he is proposing we bring in "more voices to the debate on the web's future". Expressing concern over how big internet platforms handle users' data in targeting advertising, Berners-Lee said a balance needed to be found between the interests of companies and online citizens. "Two myths now limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it's too late to change the way platforms operate", he said. 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".

"Today, I want to challenge us all to have greater ambitions for the web".

Aligning the incentives of the technology sector with those of users and society at large, he argued, will require consulting a diverse group of people from business, government, civil society, academia and the arts. Let's work together to make it possible.

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