March 12 was the 28th anniversary of when Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal to create the World Wide Web. In honor of the internet’s birthday, Berners-Lee wrote an open letter to all those who enjoy his creation explaining how we’ve gone ahead and burned it all down. Just kidding. Kinda.
In the letter, Berners-Lee expresses serious concerns for the future of the web and outlines the three things he considers to be its greatest forthcoming challenges: the loss of control over our personal data, the lack of transparency in political advertising, and fake news.
Of course none of these threats are very new, but the state of the post-2016 election internet seems to have sparked major concerns for Berners-Lee.
Everyone and her mother has been warned about the loss of personal data, yet “many of us agree to [it],” he explains, “albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents, but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services.” The companies that do mine our personal data also rarely give us the opportunity to choose what we don’t want to share - “the T&Cs are all or nothing.”
The rise in political advertising has been a yearslong process, but more specifically, Berners-Lee is concerned it’s interfering with the fundamentals of democracy: “Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?”
And fake news is just bad.
Berners-Lee only takes credit for so much of both the good and the bad that has come of the internet: “I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today,” he concludes. “All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community.” He also explains a five-year plan his foundation is implementing in order to take steps to resolve these issues.
Read the letter in full here, and then go to your room and think about what you’ve done.
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