Tim Berners-Lee unveils 'contract' to protect and strengthen the web

English scientist Tim Berners Lee from the Web Foundation addresses the opening ceremony of annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisb

The inventor of the World Wide Web, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee on Monday lamented the debasement of the world wide web, since he founded it nearly 30 years ago. Berners-Lee, who brought the web to life as an open platform while a young physicist at CERN, has been dismayed at the way in which hate speech has proliferated, and equally concerned about censorship and government shutdowns of the internet.

"We have fake news, we have problems with privacy, we have people being profiled and manipulated", he said.

Google's head of philanthropy, Jacqueline Fuller, said it was huge milestone for the web to reach 30 next year, adding her company was one of 50 organisations to have already signed up to the pact developed by Berners-Lee's World Wide Web Foundation. "I can't predict whether that will happen", he said. We need a new Contract for the Web, with clear and tough responsibilities for those who have the power to make it better.

Employees of Google, Facebook, and other tech giants have also voiced similar concerns publicly over the past few months.

Berners-Lee highlighted studies showing that half of the world population will be online by next year - but the rate of take-up was slowing considerably, potentially leaving billions cut off from government services, education and public debate.

The same spirit of collaboration will be used to shape and negotiate the contract as a document using the guiding principles the Web Foundation has laid out. Both have faced ongoing criticism over harvesting people's personal data to serve ads and failing to safeguard the information from third-party companies. Overall, they say the products they've worked on have grown to become addictive and harmful to society.

Facebook, Google and the French government are three of around 60 early backers of the contract - a list that includes tech companies, political figures, and non-governmental and digital rights organizations. The two tech giants now have direct influence over almost three quarters of all internet traffic thanks to the vast amounts of apps and services they own such as YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram. It asks that governments ensure all citizens can connect to the internet, that companies respect consumers' privacy and personal data and that citizens create "rich and relevant content for everyone".

Its starter principles define the responsibilities that governments, companies and citizens each hold, to create a better web. "Women and girls are much less likely to have access (to the internet)".

Web Summit, Europe's biggest technology conference, is helping to stoke a "reboot" of Portugal's capital city as a start-up hub as the country continues its emergence from a crippling debt crisis, the event's founder said. For example, the companies' Cambridge Analytica leaks show it may not be in favor of a free internet.

But at the same time, Berners-Lee's warnings do have weight. Those of us who are online are seeing our rights and freedoms threatened.



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