The World Wide Web has become a staple of just about everything we do. From banking to communicating, modern life revolves around the Web. But what would happen if the Web fell apart?
According to Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, it’s in danger of losing its openness and turning on humanity. Berners-Lee first wrote the blueprint 28 years ago for what would become the World Wide Web, but he has recently come out to address his concern over what has happened to his creation in the last year.
“Over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity,” he said.
Uncontrolled Personal Data
Berners-Lee first created the World Wide Web as an open platform that would allow people all over the world to share and access information past cultural boundaries and traditional limitations.
However, his confidence in the idea has been shaken following high-profile hacks and commonplace information-sharing techniques. Many Web users easily give up basic personal information to access free content on a website.
It may seem like a simple act, but Berners-Lee warns that it then puts our personal information in proprietary silos where consumers don’t have any control over where it ends up.
Governments around the world have also started accessing information that limits free speech and crosses the line. Topping the list is a recent bombshell by WikiLeaks that released 8,000 pages from the CIA claiming the agency has been trying to turn consumer devices like smartphones into surveillance devices.
In our ever-connected Internet-of-Things-driven world, turning just a handful of personal electronics into spy gadgets could easily spread information; the problem is exacerbated when it applied to millions of devices. Berners-Lee is concerned that the personal privacy of billions of people could be at risk.
Spread of Fake News and Misinformation
When Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, he couldn’t have known that it would be used to spread misinformation widely around the world. Thanks to new data science and armies of bots, misinformation and fake news have spread around the Web faster than ever before.
Web-based companies are paid based on the number of clicks they get, which has led to an astounding amount of misleading headlines and deceiving articles. The spread of fake news is a major concern in the tech space, and many individuals and groups are developing solutions to stop its spread.
Lack of Political Advertising Regulation
A huge part of the World Wide Web is based around political advertising, which has turned increasing hostile in recent months. Political campaigns have access to more personal information than ever before, they can create targeted ads that appeal to people’s biases.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, sources estimate as many as 50,000 variations existed of the same ad, making it nearly impossible to monitor. The lack of transparency and understanding has led to unethical political advertising practices, such as the same political group being able to say completely opposite things to different groups of people just to meet their agenda.
Berners-Lee acknowledges that these issues are complicated, but that doesn’t mean progress can’t be made. Web companies and tech leaders must work together to create a balance and give power back to the people over things like their own personal information.
All Web users and companies must join forces to fight corruption, fake news, and unethical practices by reaching out to governments and oversight organizations and taking things to court if necessary.
Although the World Wide Web looks different than it did when Berners-Lee created it 28 years ago, it can be saved and preserved if people are willing to work together and take a stand.