Sir Tim Berners-Lee wants to stop the internet turning into “digital dystopia”

Over that last 30 years, the World Wide Web has transformed the world we live in. Now the man who invented it presents A Contract for the Web. Can this new initiative convert the darker sides of the internet into a power for good?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee on stage
Sir Tim Berners-Lee wants us to create a ‘better internet’. Image: Web Foundation

WWW – reimagined

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the British computer scientist who invented the internet. He released a blog post called The Case for The Web almost exactly a year ago.

This sets out ambitious plans to tackle the manipulative and downright sinister motivations behind some online activity.

Sir Berners-Lee says; ‘the distributed power of the web has shifted to lay in the hands of just a few, online abuse is on the rise, and the content we see is increasingly susceptible to manipulation.’

There are so many wonderful things about the internet. Access to information and advice. Communications resources for people otherwise cut off from society. Ways to learn and to be educated. Visibility of world events we might never have heard about. Understanding and compassion for cultures we have never seen.

However, there are always ways to use this open data resource negatively. The blog explains that over 1.2 billion internet users are in countries with no protection of neutrality. This gives potential for propaganda, fake news, and intentionally distorting public opinion.

More than 1.5 billion users do not benefit from data protection rules. Those most vulnerable users are at high risk.

If any one person can put this right, the very inventor is the man for the job.

A Contract For The Web

And thus, A Contract For The Web was born. This is the result of work by the World Wide Web Foundation.

The Contract is a collaborative effort with a ‘coalition of experts’. These include governments, companies, organisations and experts in the field.

This is a global plan of action, with the aim of making ‘our online world safe and empowering for everyone’. Bravo.

The Contract sets out strategic objectives, and Principles to help meet them by governments, companies and individuals. Those governments signing up to support the Contract have agreed to uphold their responsibilities to meet these policy recommendations.

Logo bank showing some of the logos of companies who have signed up to Contract For The Web
188 organisations have committed to The Contract thus far. Image: Web Foundation

Why we need change

We report regularly on data breaches and other misuses of data. These include phishing scams during peak online shopping seasons. There is a huge amount of  controversy over how political parties are protected by social media platforms from the need to be transparent. Mobile phones are used to misappropriate private data.

These are just a few examples of the vulnerabilities of internet users, because their data is sometimes more valuable than their trust.

Who is in?

There are 188 organisations currently enrolled, which is far too many to list here! The full list is available on the Foundation website.

Some of the biggest organisations in the world have committed, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Reddit.

Contract For The Web booklets fanned out in a wooden surface
Contract For The Web was created by over 80 contributing organisations. Image: Web Foundation

How to approach an impossible task

There are nine key principles. These are broken down into separate tasks for governments, companies and citizens. For example:

  • Governments should ensure everybody has access to the internet
  • Companies should respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust
  • Citizens should build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity

The Contract calls upon the world’s most innovative companies to design technology that benefits humanity. It informs us of ways we can positively contribute to this movement.

In support of the campaign, Twitter users are reposting and sharing their thoughts with #ForTheWeb and #WebWeWant. I am a little surprised that these aren’t trending yet, but suspect it is only a matter of time.

Indeed, this could be the most important revolution of our times.

Do you agree? Will the Contract transform worldwide conduct over the internet? Is it too little, too late? Let us know your thoughts!

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