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The internet is broken, its founder wants to fix it

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 28 November 2019, 8:39 pm

Imagine if your legacy changed the world forever but not in a way you had hoped. That is a summation of the position that Tim Berners-Lee, the Inventor of the Internet, says he is in right now. But he has a plan to right the wrongs.

Berners-Lee has launched the 'Contract for the Web' - which can be signed by Governments, Companies, and Citizens. Notable signees include Google, Facebook, DuckDuck Go, Microsoft, and Twitter, as well as the governments of France, Germany and Ghana. So, what are they signing up to?

"The Contract for the Web was created by representatives from over 80 organisations, representing governments, companies and civil society, and sets out commitments to guide digital policy agendas. To achieve the Contract's goals, governments, companies, civil society and individuals must commit to sustained policy development, advocacy, and implementation of the Contract text," reads the pledge on the website.

The overarching principles that companies, for example, sign up to are as follows:

  • to make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone,
  • respect and protect people's privacy and personal data to build online trust,
  • develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.

Writing in the New York Times this week Berners-Lee says that the contract is intended to find ways to minimise harm, even if it is unintended. He cites the example of women that use exercise apps who may worry that entering in their jogging routes could put them in harm's way.

"To make the online world a place worth being in, we must all use the Contract for the Web to fight now for the web we want," Berners-Lee writes.

"Governments must support their citizens online and ensure that their rights are protected through effective regulation and enforcement. Companies must look beyond next-quarter results and understand that long-term success means building products that are good for society and that people can trust them."

Berners-Lee says he's not expecting an overnight transformation, but believes the contract will help inform the policies of the countries and companies that do sign up. And if they don't show real change then they will "lose status as a backer of the contract".

It all feels a bit idealistic and unrealistic, and you can't help but wonder if it those who have signed up so far are in it for the PR value. I guess time will tell.

You can read more about the Contract for the Web here.


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