Happy birthday to the web, which is 28 years young today… and it’s creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has used the occasion to warn us all about three “challenges” that threaten to get in the way of the web “fulfilling its potential”.
First, Berners-Lee tackles personal data, saying that we should be given more control over the information we’re sharing and how it’s being shared – rather than having it kept in “proprietary silos” by the web’s biggest companies.
The web’s creator wants to see more transparency in those terms and conditions we’re always clicking through, as well as greater freedom from government monitoring, another consequence of giving websites and app makers permission to gobble up our data.
Berners-Lee also calls for more “transparency and understanding” when it comes to political advertising online, saying that the way parties can carefully target individual users with different adverts goes against the principles of democracy and is “a near-impossible situation to monitor”.
Unfaking fake news
The third threat to the web as we know it is fake news, or “misinformation” as Berners-Lee calls it, which he says can spread “like wildfire”. As with political advertising, the complexity of the technology now on the web has made it easier for businesses to target users with stories that may not be 100 percent accurate.
“Through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain,” writes Berners-Lee.
Berners-Lee calls for tech firms and governments to loosen their stranglehold on our personal data, and wants to see companies like Facebook and Google stepping up their efforts to fight back against “fake news”. He also wants to see more “algorithmic transparency” in political advertising and other forms of online tech.
Let’s hope the internet pioneer’s high standing in the industry causes people to sit up and take notice, and Berners-Lee will be working with the Web Foundation to push for changes. “It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want – for everyone,” Berners-Lee concludes.