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Tim Berners-Lee: Maybe Regulation Can Fix the Internet

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee

While the United Nations has declared internet access as a human right, mobile internet still isn't affordable in many developing countries which deprives many off the opportunities to learn and access valuable services. In his post, he said a "legal or regulatory framework" may be needed to improve accountability, manage social objectives and ease the tensions associated with the modern web. "They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry's top talent".

The rest of Berners-Lee's letter contends with global inequality of internet access, focusing on those who aren't connected, and those who only nominally are. In particular, Berners-Lee is anxious about the web being "weaponized" in order to spread conspiracy theories, "stoke social tensions" through the use of fake social media accounts, and steal people's personal data.

Berners-Lee wrote the letter a year after he voiced similar fears in an op-ed regarding fake news and unwarranted data collection.

Berners-Lee also expressed how the web "was once a rich selection of blogs and websites" but has now "been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms". "That's an entire generation left behind", he wrote. For the half the world's population who don't have access to the internet, many living in middle- and low-income countries, getting online is a luxury.

Internet and laptop
Tim Berners-Lee: Maybe Regulation Can Fix the Internet

Also, add Berners-Lee to the growing chorus of voices saying the web is under threat from tech giants. We must invest in securing reliable access for women and girls, and empowering them through digital skills training. But it'll take more than inventive business models to get them online and up to speed: We'll have to support policies that bring the internet to them over community networks and/or public access.

Two myths now limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it's too late to change the way platforms operate. "Two myths now limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it's too late to change the way platforms operate", he said.

Aligning the incentives of the technology sector with those of users and society at large, he argued, will require consulting a diverse group of people from business, government, civil society, academia and the arts. At the Web Foundation, we are ready to play our part in this mission and build the web we all want. Then, he's saying we must "make the web work for people", which means dominant platforms should make an effort not to "choke" the little guy.

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