Published: Mon, March 12, 2018
Finance | By Claude Patterson

Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls for 'regulatory framework' for big tech

Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls for 'regulatory framework' for big tech

"The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponize the web at scale", Berners-Lee wrote in his annual public letter on Monday.

Google, parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have been accused of exercising a near-strangle hold on internet users through their selection and promotion of web pages, products and apps on their platforms, which are used by billions of people worldwide.

Securing these internet connections is important to Berners-Lee, because "the future of the web isn't just about those of us who are online today, but also those yet to connect".

Berners-Lee accused the web titans of stifling innovation by snapping up startups and controlling which "ideas and opinions are shared and seen".

At the current rate the internet inventor says that the last billion will only be connected to the internet by 2042. "In recent years, we've seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data". "That's an entire generation left behind", Berners-Lee warned.

In many African countries, for example, 1GB of mobile broadband data cost more than 10 percent of the average income, according to a 2016 survey by the Alliance for Affordable Internet. They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry's top talent.

This concentration of power makes it possible to "weaponise the web at scale", evidenced by the spread of conspiracy theories, fake social media accounts created to sow discord, state-level interference in elections and cybercriminals able to steal "troves of personal data".

All three companies had admitted that Russian entities bought and circulated ads on their respective platforms aimed at fuelling divisions between United States voters. He also argues for the need of "strong standards that balance the interests of both companies and online citizens".

He says thinking that advertising is the only way to make money online is a myth, and so is the mentality that it's too late to do anything to make real changes.

Berners-Lee said people should challenge themselves to promote "greater ambitions" for the web, which may include emphasis on decentralisation and regulation for the largest firms. "Create a new set of incentives and changes in the code will follow".

"I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfill our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions", Berners-Lee writes as the web gets closer to being a full three decades old.

He wants a meeting of people from "business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia" to come together and try to right the ship. Then, he's saying we must "make the web work for people", which means dominant platforms should make an effort not to "choke" the little guy.

Like this: