Dominant platforms have ruined the web, says Berners-Lee

Dominant platforms have ruined the web, says Berners-Lee

"This means thinking about how we align the incentives of the tech sector with those of users and society at large, and consulting a diverse cross-section of society in the process", he continued in his public message, which was posted on the same day the World Wide Web turns 29 years old.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, net neutrality advocate and inventor of the world wide web, wrote in today's Guardian that technology companies may need a regulator to ease the stoking of social tensions.

"The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponize the web at scale", Berners-Lee wrote in his annual public letter on Monday. It has profoundly changed, and that a couple of "powerful platforms" are compressing what used to be a "rich selection of blogs and websites".

Berners-Lee points out that these key companies control which "ideas and options are seen and shared" at a key point in history, with the number of people with internet access globally to exceed 50 per cent for the first time in 2018, in line with the United Nations declaration that using the net is a basic human right.

This still leaves a gaping "digital divide" that exacerbates existing inequalities: you are more likely to be offline if you are female, poor, or live in a rural area or a low-income country. He also said that without investment the last billion people who have yet to access the internet will not be online until 2042 (Alliance for Affordable Internet). That's an entire generation left behind. "They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry's top talent", said Berners-Lee.

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Reduced innovation Berners-Lee has previously spoken out about issues facing the modern web but this is the first time he's directly called for regulation.

In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access a human right, on par with clean water, electricity, shelter and food.

Berners-Lee suggests that the only way to ensure that these dominant platforms do everything they can to make the web a better place is if regulations are put in place govern them. While he does not propose any particular ideas, he points out that advertising is not the only business model available to online companies, and that a more creative approach is needed. However, his vision to create an "open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries" has been challenged as the web has become more centralised.

"We've looked to the platforms themselves for answers", Berners-Lee said. Even though he has been talking about the problems with the web for many years, now he seems to be saying things are at their worst as he referred to the "setbacks of the last two years". At the Web Foundation, we are ready to play our part in this mission and build the web we all want. Let's work together to make it possible.

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