Nothing like an open letter from the inventor of the world wide web to shake things up a little.
To mark the 29th anniversary of his invention, Sir Tim Berners-Lee called for large technology firms to be regulated.
He wants that done in order to prevent the web from being “weaponised at scale,” reports The Guardian:
“In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data,” he said.
These problems have proliferated because of the concentration of power in the hands of a few platforms – including Facebook, Google, and Twitter – which “control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared”.
“What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” said the 62-year-old British computer scientist.
These online gatekeepers can lock in their power by acquiring smaller rivals, buying up new innovations and hiring the industry’s top talent, making it harder for others to compete, he said.
His concern comes as Google accounts for 87% of all online searches worldwide, and Facebook has more than 2,2 billion active users. The two companies also own YouTube and Instagram respectively, leading to an overall income of 60% of digital advertising spend worldwide.
He warned of “two myths” that “limit our collective imagination” when looking for solutions to the problems facing the web: “The myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points we need to be a little more creative,” he said.
The open letter comes a year after Berners-Lee called for tighter regulation of online political advertising, which he said was being used in “unethical ways”. Think Russia, America’s 2016 elections, and the spread of fake news.
Berners-Lee has always maintained that his creation was a reflection of humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly. 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.
“I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,” he told the Guardian in November. “We have to grit our teeth and hang on to the fence and not take it for granted that the web will lead us to wonderful things.”
Let’s hope Facebook and Google take a turn for the better in the upcoming years.
In the meantime, have you heard of DuckDuckGo?
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