Tim Berners-Lee talks weaponization and big tech

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

In a World Wide Web 29th birthday "state of the union" open letter, he warns that the levels of power wielded by a small group of big names - Google, Facebook, Twitter et al - means that there is a real risk of ideas becoming brandished through concepts like fake news and propaganda spamming. Yet it is these companies, plus the likes of Amazon (24) which have unprecedented control over how our internet operates.

The British computer scientist, in an open letter published on the 29th anniversary of the creation of the web, said a "new set of gatekeepers" was now dominant, controlling the spread of ideas and opinions.

At the current rate the internet inventor says that the last billion will only be connected to the internet by 2042. The rise of fake news, conspiracy theories, election interference, and the amount of personal data on offer to criminals can all be attributed to the web's landscape, he says. That's an entire generation left behind. The target has been set - the United Nations recently adopted the Alliance for Affordable Internet's threshold for affordability: 1GB of mobile data for less than 2 percent of average monthly income.

It's the same advantage that lets these dominant platforms hog up more user data, giving them the competitive advantage to stay on top, which, according to Berners-Lee, is why we can expect the world wide web to become far less innovative in the next 20 years.

All three companies had admitted that Russian entities bought and circulated ads on their respective platforms aimed at fuelling divisions between USA voters.

Sir Tim added: "Companies are aware of the problems and are making efforts to fix them - with each change they make affecting millions of people".

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"Two myths now limit our collective imagination: 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", he wrote. "On both points, we need to be a little more creative", Berners-Lee wrote. Berners-Lee said this will result in "far less" innovation over the next 20 years than that seen during the web's infancy.

But Berners-Lee opines that the companies which have become the web's gatekeepers can not be relied on to fix the problem, thanks to loyalty to their shareholders rather than society at large. 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".

"Today, I want to challenge us all to have greater ambitions for the web".

"Let's assemble the brightest minds from business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia to tackle the threats to the web's future".

"I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfill our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions", Berners-Lee writes as the web gets closer to being a full three decades old.

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