At the ripe old age of 30 and with half the globe using it, the World Wide Web is facing growing pains with such issues as hate speech, privacy concerns and hacking, its creator says, calling of users to make it better for humanity.
Tim Berners-Lee on Tuesday joined a celebration of the Web and looked back at his invention at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), starting with a proposal published on March 12, 1989. It opened the way to a technological revolution that has transformed the way people buy things, share ideas, get information and much more.
It’s also become a place where hate speech thrives, tech companies scoop up personal data and rival governments spy and seek to influence elections. Those developments have taken the Web far from its roots as a space for collaboration.
As of late 2018, half of the world was online, with the other half often struggling to get access.
Speaking at a “Web@30” conference at CERN, Berners-Lee acknowledged that a sense among many who are on the Web has become: “Whoops! The Web is not the Web we wanted in every respect.”
His World Wide Web Foundation wants governments, companies and citizens to take a greater role in shaping the Web for good under principles laid out in its “Contract for the Web.”
Under the contract, governments are called upon to make sure everyone can connect to the Internet, to keep it available and to respect privacy. Companies are to make the Internet affordable, respect privacy and develop technology that will put people — and the “public good” — first. Citizens are to create and to cooperate and respect other users.
“The Contract for the Web is about sitting down in working groups with other people who signed up, and to say, ‘Okay, let’s work out what this really means,’” Berners-Lee said. It was unclear, however, how such rules would be enforced.
Berners-Lee said that it was important to strike a balance between oversight and freedom but that it’s difficult to agree what the balance should be.
“Where is the balance between leaving the tech companies to do the right thing and regulating them? Where is the balance between freedom of speech and hate speech?” he said.
The conference, which brought together Internet and tech experts, took place at CERN, where Berners-Lee worked in the late 1980s as a software engineer.
Berners-Lee came up with the idea for hypertext transfer protocol — the “http” that adorns web addresses — and other building blocks for the Web.
The “http” system allowed text and small images to be retrieved through a piece of software — the first browser — which Berners-Lee released in 1990 and is considered the start of the Web. In practice, the access to a browser on a home computer made the Internet easily accessible to consumers for the first time.
Berners-Lee, now age 63, has become a sort of father figure for the Internet community. He was named one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century by Time magazine.