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  • Vishal Narayan

Web no more tool of 'public good,' says Sir Tim Berners-Lee, calls for taking away data ownership from big firms

Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Image source: Wikipedia

Web is no more the tool of public good as it was envisioned to be and has become a handmaiden of capitalist forces leading to a monopoly-like situation, said Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Tuesday, on the occasion of 35th year of invention of World Wide Web.

Known as the father of WWW, in an open letter, Sir Berners-Lee pointed out the segment of web that encourages a passive consumption of content and enables farming of personal data for targeted ads, as the main reasons that led to the breakdown of web.

"The first is the extent of power concentration, which contradicts the decentralised spirit I originally envisioned. This has segmented the web, with a fight to keep users hooked on one platform to optimise profit through the passive observation of content. This exploitative business model is particularly grave in this year of elections that could unravel political turmoil.

"Compounding this issue is the second, the personal data market that has exploited people’s time and data with the creation of deep profiles that allow for targeted advertising and ultimately control over the information people are fed," he said in the letter posted on Medium.

The foremost tech visionary attributed the scenario to lack of leadership and regulations that he said have always found it hard to keep up with the pace of technological development.

"The future hinges on our ability to both reform the current system and create a new one that genuinely serves the best interests of humanity. To achieve this, we must break down data silos to encourage collaboration, create market conditions in which a diversity of options thrive to fuel creativity, and shift away from polarising content to an environment shaped by a diversity of voices and perspectives that nurture empathy and understanding," he suggested.

Sir Berners-Lee in his letter championed a new generation of pioneers and name dropped some of the platforms which he said could fire up the "human-centred web" that he had originally envisioned.

"Bluesky and Mastadon don’t feed off our engagement but still create group formation, Github provides online collaboration tools and podcasts contribute to community knowledge. As this emergent paradigm gains momentum, we have the opportunity to re-shape a digital future that prioritises human well-being, equity, and autonomy," he said, and suggested that we act on it "now."

The London-born computer scientist stressed on taking away personal data from big corporates as one of the first steps that we must take and championed Solid, an open source protocol that aims to give users data ownership and help to create a more open, transparent, and secure web.

Sir Berners-Lee is the director of Solid, which he manages with a team of engineers.

"With Solid, individuals decide how their data is managed, used, and shared. This approach has already begun to take root, as seen in Flanders, where every citizen now has their own POD after Jan Jambon announced four years ago that all Flanders citizens should have a POD.

"This is the future of data ownership and control, and it’s an example of the emergent movement that is poised to replace the outdated incumbent system," he said.

“… there is a need, an urgent need, for others to do the same, to back the morally courageous leadership that is rising, collectivise their solutions, and to overturn the online world being dictated by profit to one that is dictated by the needs of humanity.

"It is only then that the online ecosystem we all live in will reach its full potential and provide the foundations for creativity, collaboration and compassion," he added.

Sir Tim-Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web in March 1989 and was awarded the 2016 Turing Prize for it.   


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