March 12 marks the day the original proposal for the World Wide Web was submitted, according to an open letter penned by inventor of the World Wide Web himself Tim Berners-Lee published by The Guardian.
Berners-Lee says that the web was conceived entrenched with the idea that it would serve as an open platform that would pave the way for anyone, anywhere to "share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries."
As it stands, the web has mostly lived up to Berners-Lee's vision. Over the years, however, there has been a longstanding struggle to maintain its openness. He now wants to save the web, alarmed at its devolutions in the past year. Three trends in particular concerns Berners-Lee, and he believes that for the web to continue serving as "a tool that serves all of humanity," the trends he outlined must be dealt with.
Berners-Lee On Personal Data
First, Berners-Lee is concerned with a transactional model which allows web users to trade their own personal data for free content, a business model many websites leverage at present. He says that turning over personal data to companies gives them the benefits of control that should be privy to users exclusively. What's more, he says that users often don't have the wherewithal to tell companies the types and categories of data they don't want shared.
Data collection, according him, also has other effects. Governments for instance, are increasingly encroaching on user data, passing volatile laws that cause brash disregard for user privacy. Berners-Lee goes on to outline the effects of such surveillance on repressive countries: murder, indictment, and monitoring. But even for countries with less severe impacts which purport the best interest of their citizens, surveillance still stands as a violation of user privacy.
"It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, such as sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion," he says.
Berners-Lee On Fake News
The web has expanded into a dissemination tool over the years, and people mostly rely on different channels on the web to get their news. That said, there's also a growing record of fake news proliferating social media avenues, causing the web as a platform rife with misinformation.
A more pressing concern is the transaction that underpins the spread of fake news. He highlights that fake news sites generate more revenue when more people click fake news links. These sites have the power to determine what to present next based on algorithms culled from past user behavior and personal data the sites harvest consistently. This means that the more times fake news is accessed, the more informed the algorithm becomes, thereby triggering a subsequent barrage of fake news.
Berners-Lee On Political Advertising
Berners-Lee also touches upon the increasing level of sophistication with which political advertising have made their way onto social media platforms, drawing upon the algorithm which fosters this exact behavior. More worryingly, the algorithm allows group or person-specific targeting, manipulating each message so as to appeal to multiple types of users.
"Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?"
How To Solve The Web's Threats
To solve the web's biggest threats, Berners-Lee calls for collaboration between consumers and web companies to render a balance that'll send control of data back to people. Moreover, he encourages people to fight a meddling government in surveillance laws.
Berners-Lee states that he and his team will be working on the issues as part of a five-year strategy to come up with policy solutions that'll drive people toward a web "that gives equal power and opportunity to all."
The web now is an extremely powerful instrument, featuring a diverse set of tools that facilitate communication, interaction, and advocacy. Berners-Lee simply believes that it should be free to all, without the constraints and burdens of threats to user privacy, misinformation, and underhanded political agenda.
People have contributed to what the web has become now, meaning the same people also hold the responsibility of creating the web we want, for everyone.