Twenty-eight years ago, Tim Berners-Lee made his original proposal for the World Wide Web. Today, he is more alarmed than ever about the direction that his invention is taking.
In an article published in The Guardian, Sir Tim highlighted three worrying “trends” that over the past 12 months have become apparent to the wider public: their lack of control on private data, the spread of misinformation, and the influence of targeted advertising on political campaigning.
These concerns are different sides of a central, unifying problem: The unrestricted capacity of governments and corporations to undermine personal freedom. This in turn feeds into our increasing dependence on the Internet. A dependence that extends to the most mundane in our daily lives.
Berners-Lee proposes key actions to tackle such disquieting tendencies, including: Working together with Web companies “to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people”, and opposing governments’ “overreach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary”.
Although such steps are certainly necessary, they are not sufficient.
Important transformations will be required at the level of individuals and communities, without forgetting the need for stronger openness in science and technology. Moreover, all these efforts must be accompanied by more transparency and accountability in government and business.
It is not too late to fulfill Berners-Lee’s original vision for the Web: “A tool that serves all of humanity”.