Dominant platforms have ruined the web, says Berners-Lee

Yes you

Yes you

On the 29th birthday of the world wide web, its founder Tim Berners-Lee has penned down an interesting perspective about how the web is now exclusively controlled by a handful of companies and how a regulator may soon be needed to monitor it to prevent it from being weaponised at scale.

The social network, along with Google and Twitter, appeared before Congress to answer questions on the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 USA election.

Sir Tim added: "Companies are aware of the problems and are making efforts to fix them - with each change they make affecting millions of people".

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.

In an open letter posted to the World Wide Web Foundation website, Berners-Lee says that the "powerful weight of a few dominant platforms" has compressed the web's selection of blogs and websites that once existed. Targeting firms including Facebook and Google, Berners-Lee criticised how "a handful of platforms" manipulate and control what people see online. In last year's letter, the engineer urged Google and Facebook to fight against misinformation "while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is 'true or not'". Advertising isn't and shouldn't be the only way for people to make money online.

It's worth remembering that Berners-Lee is highlighting a deeper issue here, too.

Discussing the risks of fake news and hacking, he wrote: "The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponise the web at scale".

Whatever the solutions to these platform problems might be, if they're going to work, they may need to be more than merely cosmetic.

Berners-Lee remains clear that it is: "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 writes. Currently, half of the world's population can not access the internet.

The rest of Berners-Lee's letter contends with global inequality of internet access, focusing on those who aren't connected, and those who only nominally are. "We must invest in securing reliable access for women and girls, and empowering them through digital skills training", adds the inventor.

He says that while the Web's problems are complex and large, they should be thought of as mere coding bugs. On both points, we need to be a little more creative.

"We have to grit our teeth and hang on to the fence and not take it for granted that the web will lead us to wonderful things". "I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions", writes Berners-Lee.

Two myths now limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it's too late to change the way platforms operate.

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.

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