World Wide Web inventor wants a new contract for the Internet

AFP | Web pioneer Berners Lee said'all kinds of things have gone wrong with the internet

Berners-Lee, who brought the web to life as an open platform while a young physicist at CERN, has been dismayed at the way in which hate speech has proliferated, and equally concerned about censorship and government shutdowns of the internet. But over the coming months, Berners-Lee and his organization, the World Wide Web Foundation, plan to flesh out the document with input from the tech industry, and publish a final draft in May 2019. I hope more people will join us to build the web we want. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 and is now calling on citizens, governments, and companies to take it to the next level via a Contract for the Web.

Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst so the web really is a public good that puts people first. The contract aims to ensure that the Web continues to "serve humanity" and calls on governments, citizens and companies to agree to a number of principles and commitments. These include former United Kingdom prime minister Gordon Brown and companies like Facebook and Google.

Berners-Lee concedes it will be hard to measure the success of the contract, which will be promoted through a campaign called #ForTheWeb.

Putting the combined companies' wealth and power into perspective, Reuters estimates that "Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook have a combined market capitalization of $3.7 trillion, equal to Germany's gross domestic product previous year". But if anyone has a chance, it's Tim Berners-Lee. "Will this be enough to make search engines push back?" It's a delicate balancing act, but limiting some freedoms could end up creating a fairer, more open Web.

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"All kinds of things have gone wrong" with the internet, says Berners-Lee. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Although the contract is non-binding, the project's goal is to spark an attitude change in how governments, companies and average citizens approach using the internet. That's both a warning - including about how aspects of the web have become - and an opportunity.

An online security firm, Cloudflare, has also signed the contract. We need a new Contract for the Web, with clear and tough responsibilities for those who have the power to make it better. For example, the W3 Consortium is the governing body of the World Wide Web, alongside the Web Foundation and the Open Data Institute, which he argues are "vital components for protecting what has been - and what will come". However, as the Web increases in power, this is having the unintended outcome of increasing the digital divide, Berners-Lee argued. "This idea can be quite revolutionary for the future of the web".

"Everything we do ... to make the web more powerful, it means we increase the digital divide", Berners-Lee, 63, told the opening of the ninth edition of the Web Summit, dubbed "the Davos for geeks", that attracts up to 70,000 people.

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