Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, called for large technology companies to be regulated to prevent the web from being “weaponized at scale,” in an open letter published on Monday.
The net neutrality advocate said that social media companies have “been built to maximize profit more than to maximize social good. A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions.”
Writing on the 29th anniversary of his invention, Berners-Lee warned of power being concentrated with a small number of companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.”
It’s a ‘myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies’ – Tim Berners-Lee
Last year, Berners-Lee told WikiTribune that the dominance of a few technology giants is creating barriers for competitors and has allowed conspiracy theories to flourish on social media. He said: “I as a member of the web should be holding these people and these web properties to account and say, ‘Oh, you need to do better. You need to reprogram these things so we get a less polarized world.'”
In the open letter, published on the World Wide Web Foundation website, Berners-Lee also said it was a “myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies.”
Today’s move comes after he called for tighter regulation of online political advertising last year, which he said was being used in “unethical ways.” (Guardian).
Berners-Lee’s letter also warned of the risks of a digital divide and inequality unless more work was done to connect the disadvantaged to the internet. “If we do not invest seriously in closing this gap, the last billion will not be connected until 2042. That’s an entire generation left behind.”
In 2016, the UN passed a non-binding resolution that disruption of internet access is a human rights violation (The Verge). And at the beginning of this year the UN Broadband Commission launched 2025 targets (ITU), including adopting the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s threshold for affordability target, which says entry-level broadband services should be less than 2 percent of average monthly incomes.
Berners-Lee said that universal access is still a long way off, with only 19 of the 51 countries analyzed in the alliance’s 2017 Affordability Report having achieved this goal.
Read the full open letter here.