The internet is under siege, its initial promise of providing free global access to everyone on a level playing field under attack from governments, big businesses, and secretive, anti-democratic forces. Tim Berners-Lee, one of the key creators of the World Wide Web, has been involved in a consortium that has come up with proposed measures to save the internet in a document titled Contract for the Web.
He discusses the plan in an interview.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has launched a global action plan to save the web from political manipulation, fake news, privacy violations and other malign forces that threaten to plunge the world into a “digital dystopia”.
The Contract for the Web requires endorsing governments, companies and individuals to make concrete commitments to protect the web from abuse and ensure it benefits humanity.
“I think people’s fear of bad things happening on the internet is becoming, justifiably, greater and greater,” Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, told the Guardian. “If we leave the web as it is, there’s a very large number of things that will go wrong. We could end up with a digital dystopia if we don’t turn things around. It’s not that we need a 10-year plan for the web, we need to turn the web around now.”
The contract, which has been worked on by 80 organisations for more than a year, outlines nine central principles to safeguard the web – three each for governments, companies and individuals.
The document, published by Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation, has the backing of more than 150 organisations, from Microsoft, Twitter, Google and Facebook to the digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. At the time of writing, Amazon had not endorsed the principles.
“The forces taking the web in the wrong direction have always been very strong,” Berners-Lee said. “Whether you’re a company or a government, controlling the web is a way to make huge profits, or a way of ensuring you remain in power. The people are arguably the most important part of this, because it’s only the people who will be motivated to hold the other two to account.”
That so many organizations have signed on already is a hopeful sign. But many powerful interests are willing to sign on to public pledges to do good while quietly undermining them from behind the scenes, so whether they will carry through on their promises remains to be seen.