Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has warned that the Web is still facing threats, not the least of which comes from dominant tech players who are stifling innovation. And he urged people to close the digital divide by supporting affordable online access in poorer countries, so that we do not deepen existing inequalities going forward.
However, there are still many people without Internet access, and that is causing a divide between those that do have Internet, Berners-Lee explained. Because "a handful of platforms...control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared", he says, they're ripe for co-opting. In his post, he said a "legal or regulatory framework" may be needed to improve accountability, manage social objectives and ease the tensions associated with the modern web. 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", he wrote.
"In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access a human right, on par with clean water, electricity, shelter and food", said the 62-year-old British computer scientist.
World Wide Web founder highlights the myriad problems with our online world..
The threats to the Web today are real and many, including those that I described in my last letter - from misinformation and questionable political advertising to a loss of control over our personal data. However, in many places, getting online is prohibitively expensive - the cost of 1GB of mobile broadband in Malawi is more than 20 per cent of the average monthly income.
"These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors", he continues.
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"The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponise the web at scale", he writes.
He said the current situation means that these gatekeepers "which have been built to maximise profit more than to maximise social good" are often the only ones making decisions to regulate the online world. 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".
Aligning the incentives of the technology sector with those of users and society at large, he argued, will require consulting a diverse group of people from business, government, civil society, academia and the arts.
But Berners-Lee believes 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.