Yesterday was 28 the anniversary of the day that the Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web. To honor the occasion, he published a letter describing how far he had spread something that feared him as he distorted his original vision.
Berners-Lee continues to lead the World Wide Web Consortium, which is developing open web standards. That gives him great influence, but now the internet is all over the world, and multi-billion dollar governments and companies are holding most of its power. Many of the problems he points out and we will see below are not new, but as he states "I am more and more worried about three new trends" during the last 12 months.
1. Loss of control over personal data
Ο Berners-Lee recognizes that everyone who uses the internet has accepted labyrinthine terms of service in order to "enjoy" private technologies. See Google, Facebook, etc. It also recognizes the issue with government oversight. Governments collect data and monitor communications without asking permission. Berners-Lee fears that data collection by governments will have a creepy effect on how we feel using the internet and our every online conversation.
2. Misinformation is very easy to spread on the internet
Fake News! Yes, and like all of us, Berners-Lee is watching the growth of online communications. Social networks have created a mature landscape for the dissemination of false information. In particular, he states that "the use of data science and the armies of bots" will fool the system.
3. Online political advertising needs transparency and understanding
He worries about politicians using certain groups who cannot understand what the real political message is. "Targeted advertising allows a campaign to be completely different, possibly with conflicting things in different groups."
What can we do about the above? Tim is not entirely sure, but at least he took the position of describing some solutions.
1. "Data pods" could be a way of giving more control over personal data. Berners-Lee has worked with MIT and the Qatar Computing Research Institute on a project called "Solid" (socially linked data). Although it is still in the early stages of its development, the idea of storing personal data away from big companies sounds promising. In theory, at least this will give users greater control over their data by allowing companies such as Facebook to have little access to their information, but it will also enable them to revoke access to that information.
2. Subscriptions and micropayments as a solution for publications and other businesses that use ads to make their costs. The idea is apparently to disconnect Internet traffic from the use of personal data for targeted marketing.
3. Fighting government oversight through the courts, if necessary.
4. Facebook and Google should "continue their efforts" to combat fake news.
5. Greater transparency in the ways algorithms are used to influence our lives. He says that values such as fairness, accountability and transparency in Machine Learning should be very specific.
6. Settings of online advertising policies to the same standards required by other media such as TV and radio.
Unfortunately, we have known all of the above for years now. What has changed in recent years is that the global community has realized the magnitude of government oversight. Continued hacking, which results in very large leaks, confirms that there can be no security on the internet. Companies, on the other hand, have built their entire business model in the exclusive possession and use of our personal data.
Berners-Lee seems to be quite romantic if he believes all of the above will be resolved soon.
The letter was posted to The Guardian