Web inventor, Tim Berners-Lee launches plan to stop internet abuse

His vision is however largely unenforceable and incredibly vague

Internet creator Tim Berners-Lee

Credited with laying the groundwork for the Web - the universe of multimedia Web pages accessible via the Internet - in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee unveiled on Monday his plan to save his creation from being misused by governments, companies and individuals.

Armed with the support of over 150 tech giants including Facebook, Google and Microsoft and interest groups such as Reporters Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the inventor of the internet has thus crafted a “Contract for the web” that would establish new ideals for how individuals, companies and governments should behave online.

“If we don’t act now - and act together - to prevent the Web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering” its potential for good, Berners-Lee said in a statement from his World Wide Web Foundation.

Specifically, Berners-Lee's "roadmap to build a better Web" establishes nine total principles: three for each category of internet denizen. At the top level are governments, which are obligated under the contract to ensure everyone can connect to the internet; keep all of the internet available at all times (meaning no censoring any parts of the web); and respect and protect peoples' fundamental online privacy and data rights. Companies, oare required to make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone; respect and protect people's privacy and personal data to build trust online; and develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst. Finally, citizens are asked to be creators and collaborators on the Web; to build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity; and to fight for the Web.

“Citizens must hold those in power accountable, demand their digital rights be respected and help foster healthy conversation online,” Berners-Lee added.

These might seem about as basic as it gets in terms of principles for an ideal internet, but every level is currently falling short of their goals. Governments have not been the advocates for free and open internet that the contract has called for. The US may be the richest country in the world, but the government has failed to guarantee that every person has the ability to connect to the internet. It's not just America, of course - countries all over the world fall well short of ensured internet access.

There are plenty of examples of governments flipping the switch on the internet when they feel it suits them, as well. Last week, Iran's government hit the kill switch on the internet, cutting off access for most of its citizens in response to political uprisings among citizens. It isn't the first and won't be the last country to do this. Egypt's government did the same in response to political uprisings in 2011, and both Sudan and Ethiopia cut off access to quell protests just this summer. Even countries that allow the internet to operate don't guarantee unfettered access. Take China for example, which is currently blocking its citizens from visiting 157 of the top 1,000 most trafficked websites, and well over 11,000 total sites, according to analysis provided by GreatFire. As for respecting people's online privacy and data rights, most countries fall short of that, as well.

Companies have a lot of work to do, too. Corporations that provide access to the internet certainly don't have affordability in mind when setting prices. In the US, for instance, most regions only have one major internet provider available, creating an effective monopoly that allows the company to charge more. It has less to do with the actual cost of the service or access and more to do with just how much the company can get away with charging. Many of these companies also fail to provide access for everyone, focusing primarily on serving profitable areas. AT&T came under fire in 2017 for essentially red-lining poor neighborhoods in Cleveland, choosing not to extend service to areas where there were more low-income families - even when they live just one block over from areas with service.

At the end of the day, however, Berners-Lee's vision for an improved internet is idealistic and hard to disagree with. But it's also largely unenforceable and incredibly vague. There's a reason that companies like Google and DuckDuckGo - one a search engine that collects all of your data and another that promises not to track you at all - have both signed on to the plan. It's because it's a feel-good measure, something that basically everyone can agree on but no one will actually be subjected to.

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