Tim Berners-Lee says regulation of the Web may be needed

Tim Berners-Lee says regulation of the Web may be needed

"What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms", Berners-Lee laments. More recently, the internet fueled the success of some of the world's largest tech companies-and, in effect, created their own share of problems like misinformation and the crisis of personal data security.

This year is a significant one in the web's history, as, for the first time, more than half of the world's population will gain internet access.

Berners-Lee points out that these key companies control which "ideas and options are seen and shared" at a key point in history, with the number of people with internet access globally to exceed 50 per cent for the first time in 2018, in line with the United Nations declaration that using the net is a basic human right. "If we do not invest seriously in closing this gap, the last billion will not be connected until 2042".

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. However, in many places, getting online is prohibitively expensive - the cost of 1GB of mobile broadband in Malawi is more than 20 per cent of the average monthly income.

The inventor goes on to say that these so-called gatekeepers buy up innovations and talent in a bid to lock their position on the web.

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In an open letter to mark the web's 29th birthday, Berners-Lee warned that "power is concentrated" among just a few companies - including Facebook and Google - whose platforms can be manipulated by nefarious forces.

All three companies had admitted that Russian entities bought and circulated ads on their respective platforms aimed at fuelling divisions between U.S. voters. The responsibility-and sometimes burden-of making these decisions falls on companies that have been built to maximize profit more than to maximize social good. He also argues for the need of "strong standards that balance the interests of both companies and online citizens".

Berners-Lee believes the web needs to be more open, rather than users' experiences being defined by the web giants.

"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". "Create a new set of incentives and changes in the code will follow". We can design a Web that creates a constructive and supportive environment. Furthermore, he lays out his desire to have more people involved from across business, tech, government, civil society, the arts, and academia in discussions around the future of the web and not those that control it.

"At the Web Foundation, we are ready to play our part in this mission and build the web we all want". Then, he's saying we must "make the web work for people", which means dominant platforms should make an effort not to "choke" the little guy.

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