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WWW inventor says the Web is "under threat"

13 March 2018

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. 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.

"To be offline today is to be excluded from opportunities to learn and earn, to access valuable services, and to participate in democratic debate", he warns.

Berners-Lee explained that universal access is still a long way off, with only 19 of the 51 countries analysed in the alliance's 2017 Affordability Report having achieved their goals. "What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms", Berners-Lee laments.

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".

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The solution, writes Berners-Lee, is a "legal or regulatory framework" that "accounts for "social objectives".

At the current rate the internet inventor says that the last billion will only be connected to the internet by 2042. "That's an entire generation left behind", he wrote. He also said the internet we have today is not the same as the internet we used to connect 20 years ago.

In particular, Berners-Lee is anxious about the web being "weaponized" in order to spread conspiracy theories, "stoke social tensions" through the use of fake social media accounts, and steal people's personal data.

World Wide Web founder highlights the myriad problems with our online world.

. 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.

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"These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors", he says in the letter.

"What's more, the fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponise the web at scale".

This concentration of power makes it possible to "weaponise the web at scale", evidenced by the spread of conspiracy theories, fake social media accounts created to sow discord, state-level interference in elections and cybercriminals able to steal "troves of personal data".

He says thinking that advertising is the only way to make money online is a myth, and so is the mentality that it's too late to do anything to make real changes. 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".

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Berners-Lee called on the world of web users to design a web that creates a constructive and supportive environment.

WWW inventor says the Web is