27 September 2023

Net worth: New plan to reverse the worst of the World Wide Web

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Hamza Shaban* says web inventor Tim Berners-Lee is on a global mission to protect the openness, accessibility and civility of the internet.

Photo: Paul Clarke/Wikimedia

Tim Berners-Lee (pictured), the inventor of the World Wide Web, recently kicked off a global campaign to curb some of the harmful effects of internet connectivity on society.

Through a “Contract for the Web,” Berners-Lee is urging governments, internet companies and users to commit to a set of principles to protect the openness and accessibility of the web while boosting user privacy and minimising misinformation and hate speech.

“The web is at a crucial point,” Berners-Lee said in a statement last week.

“More than half the world’s population remains offline, and the rate of new people getting connected is slowing.”

“Those of us who are online are seeing our rights and freedoms threatened.”

The principles call for full, uncensored and affordable internet connectivity, tied to a fundamental right to privacy and a humane, collaborative culture in which people in online communities respect civil discourse.

The Web Contract comes as the World Wide Web Foundation, a group Berners-Lee founded in 2009 to promote internet accessibility and equality, released a report examining threats posed by toxic aspects of online activity and the lack of web access.

The report highlights the rise of online abuse, misinformation and manipulation, the absence of data protection laws and the lack of net neutrality protections that would ensure internet providers treat all online content equally.

According to the report, more than 1.2 billion internet users live in countries without net neutrality rules, and more than 1.5 billion users live in places without comprehensive laws protecting an individual’s data.

Upon the campaign’s unveiling, more than 50 organisations had endorsed the principles underlying the Contract, including the French Government, Facebook and Google.

Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Foundation hope the campaign will generate enough support to publish the Contract by May 2019, the projected time when more than half the world’s population will have access to the web.

* Hamza Shaban is a technology reporter for The Washington Post. He tweets at @hshaban.

This article first appeared at www.washingtonpost.com.

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