Sir Tim Berners-Lee warning on future of the internet

Reports recently released reveal the hopes and fears of Sir Tim Berners-Lee on what lies in store for the world wide web.

Berners-Lee, who is known as the inventor of the internet, has been reflecting on the evolution of the progress his brainchild has made over the last three decades.

The Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal blew the lid on the darker element to the web, and how failure to safeguard data privacy could lead to the web taking a “downward plunge to a dysfunctional future.”

“When the Cambridge Analytica thing went down [people] realised that elections had been manipulated using data that they contributed.”

The English engineer and scientist does feel there is room for optimism, however. If data breaches, hacking and misinformation can be dealt with in the right way then the web can be better safeguarded, he said.

Speaking to the BBC, the web creator expressed his concern about “nastiness and misinformation spreading”, but also said that he felt citizens were starting to comprehend the dangers of the internet.

In an open letter for his NFP, the Web Foundation, Berners-Lee celebrated his invention’s anniversary, stating:

“While the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.”

“Against the backdrop of news stories and how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good.”

Three areas of dysfunction harming the web today were listed as:

• malicious activity such as hacking and harassment
• problematic system design such as business models that reward clickbait
• unintended consequences, such as aggressive or polarised discussions

While legislation could be brought in to address malicious behaviours online, Mr Berners-Lee said that initiatives such as the Contract for the Web project, which he helped to launch in 2018, could help all of society to contribute to a safe internet.

“We need open web champions within government – civil servants and elected officials who will take action when private sector interests threaten the public good and who will stand up to protect the open web,” he said.

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