Sir Tim Berners-Lee, net neutrality advocate and inventor of the world wide web, published an open letter today saying 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.” On the web’s 29th birthday, Berners-Lee warned that since power is concentrated among a small number of companies, it is “possible to weaponise the web at scale.”
He wrote, “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” in a letter published on the World Wide Web Foundation website. “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.”
He explained that this dominance of a few technology giants – Facebook, Twitter, etc – is creating barriers for competitors and has allowed conspiracy theories to spread on social media. Speaking to WikiTribune last year, Berners-Lee 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.'”
Within the letter he also commented it was a “myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies” and that it is not too late for media platforms to change.
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 notes that without investment the last billion people who have yet to access the internet will not be online until 2042 (Alliance for Affordable Internet).
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 explained 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.
See the full open letter here.