Can the Internet change?
Twenty-nine years ago, as the architect behind the web’s first browser and server, Tim Berners-Lee built the internet. ”I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries,” he wrote in a 2017 open letter. But, he says, he’s become “increasingly worried” about new online trends, like lack of privacy, the spread of misinformation, and lack of transparency in online political advertising. Over the last decade, Berners-Lee’s focus has become saving the internet from itself, and now he’s recruiting companies, governments, and citizens to join his cause.
Berners-Lee’s non-profit the World Wide Web Foundation studies internet accessibility and usage, and details the barriers to a free and open internet, like harassment, privacy infringement, and cost. For instance, a recent study found that over 2 billion people live in places where internet is prohibitively expensive to access. And today, Berners-Lee announced a “Contract for the Web,” which lays out principles for using the internet ethically and transparently for all participants.
The foundation is still working on a full version of this contract, which will be completed by May 2019, but its current version includes short principles directed towards three sectors—the government, private companies, and citizens—to ensure a free and open web. The principles, while well-intentioned, are vague; for instance, one principle says that companies will “respect consumers’ privacy and personal data,” a goal that is difficult to quantify without more specific benchmarks.
Nonetheless, more than 50 high-profile partners have signed the contract, including Google, Facebook, the French government, and Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson. “I hope more people will join us to build the web we want,” said Berners-Lee.