Three dark trends in the web that worries Tim Berners-Lee

The World Wide Web founder appeals to people to work for a free and neutral web

The World Wide Web completed 28 years on Sunday. While no one who is reading this needs to be told what it has helped us achieve, increasingly thought leaders are getting worried about the negative impact that it is creating. That includes Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web. In a signed article published in the World Economic Forum website, he has specifically identified three dark areas, which are:

  • We’ve lost control of our personal data: “The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data,” says Berners-Lee. Apart from the privacy loss caused by commercial interests of companies, Berners-Lee also warns against the danger of governments coercing the companies to have access to this data, which, he says, “can have a chilling effect on free speech” which could discourage people to explore sensitive issues like sex, health issues and religion on the web.  
  • It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web: Since today’s online businesses are centered around our clicks, the handful of social media sites and search engine that dominate learn our behavior and show us the ‘content they think we’ll click on’. This means content that is designed to be surprising, shocking or appealing to our biases, spreads fast. This is used by vested interests for commercial or political gains.
  • Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding: While the world has woken up to the efficacy of political advertising on social media, few understand the sophisticated algorithms that make it possible. With accusations that citizens are being pointed to fake news sites and being kept away from polls, the WWW inventor is naturally worried. “Is that democratic?” he asks.

Appealing for supporting the Web Foundation, which has created a five year strategy to work on these issues, he says, “It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want – for everyone.” 

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