The founder of the world wide web, the English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, has expressed his concerns about some developments that threaten the open nature of the internet. For example, he is concerned about the large-scale data collection by companies and the lack of control.
Berners-Lee notes that the current business model of many websites consists of offering free content in exchange for obtaining personal data from internet users. According to him, we often voluntarily agree to this, even if it often means accepting lengthy and vague terms. The scientist states that “we are not taking advantage of the benefits that we would have if we had direct control over our data and the choice with whom we share it.” In addition, according to Berners-Lee, we miss the opportunity to indicate to these companies which data we would rather not share. He expressed these concerns yesterday during the 28th anniversary of the World Wide Web.
In addition, the English scientist is concerned about the extent to which governments are increasingly monitoring our steps on the internet through cooperation or coercion. He is not happy with the “extreme laws” that governments are introducing to make this possible. In doing so, he mainly points to the danger of internet users in repressive regimes, whose freedoms are under even greater pressure. But also in democratic constitutional states Berners-Lee thinks it is going too far for the government to be able to follow everyone. This, he says, has a negative effect on freedom of expression and thwarts the idea of the internet as a place to talk about important and sensitive topics.
In addition to the negative effects on privacy, Berners-Lee is also concerned about the ease with which fake news can spread today. He notes that most people only find their news and information on a handful of websites and social media. “These websites choose what to present to us based on algorithms that can learn from our personal data, which is constantly collected. That leads to the websites serving us content that they think we will click on. That means fake news that surprises or is shocking, can spread very quickly. Through data science and the use of artificial intelligence, people with malicious intent can set up the system to spread misinformation for political or financial gain.”
Berners-Lee recognizes that these are complex problems and that solutions are not simple. To improve the situation, he wants internet users to work together with internet companies to get more balance in the control over our personal data. Alternative revenue models, such as subscriptions or micropayments, should also be considered. In addition, Berners-Lee believes that we should oppose governments that go too far with supervisory laws that affect our privacy. To prevent the spread of fake news, we need to encourage gatekeepers like Google and Facebook to continue their initiatives in this regard. In addition, Berners-Lee does not want a central body that determines what is real and what is not. Finally, he wants more transparency in the use of algorithms, so that we can gain insight into the decisions that affect our lives.