The World Wide Web turned 29 years old this week, but its maker is not happy. Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, has expressed his discontentment on the centralization of the web in his annual letter. He said that the internet today is enslaved by a few giant platforms and there is not enough room for innovation.
Lee has blamed large platforms such as Google and Facebook for controlling content using their dominance and also pointed to their tendency to pluck out their competition by acquiring start-ups that are innovative and challenging, and hiring the best talent in the industry.
The father of the Web said that owing to the emergence of large platforms, many smaller websites had been wiped out and the accessibility of ideas and opinions were being decided by a few with the power to do so. This is detrimental to both innovation and critical thinking, he added.
Lee said it would take people from different walks of society such as technology, business, government, academics and art to fix this issue.
Handing over the reins of such a large entity to just a few organizations could have a crippling effect in the event of any untoward incidents such as an outage or a glitch, as was seen in the case of Amazon Web Services.
Lee brought up another serious issue which is the weaponization of the internet. The internet is now being used to spike manipulation and create rifts in society through misinformation, conspiracy theories and such. Fake accounts and posts on social media play their own nasty role in spreading hatred. The assumption that fake profiles could meddle in elections paints a grim picture.
Lee said large technology-and-social media companies which were driven by the goal to maximize profit were less likely to focus on social good. He said a certain amount of regulation was needed to make sure companies pay heed to social objectives. An example would be laws that give people more control over their social media data.
Apart from Tim Berners-Lee, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff also voiced their opinions on separate occasions about the need for regulation of technology and social media companies.
Lee also hinted at the need to close the digital gap by enabling access to the Internet for everybody. Although the UN has declared internet access as a basic human right, poor people, especially women, living in rural areas in second and third world countries are far from claiming this right.
Lee believes it would take not only creative business models but also an entire support system to bring the internet to these people.
The topic of internet access also brings us to the topic of net neutrality — a debate that refuses to die down. With the FCC’s new laws threatening the availability of free internet and with states like Washington bringing in their own laws in favor of net neutrality, the tug of war continues.
Coming back to Tim Berners-Lee’s point of enabling all-round internet access, this is one more reason why net neutrality becomes important. If net neutrality went away and the control was handed over to large corporations to hike prices and divert content as they deemed fit, Lee’s aspiration of making the internet available to everyone around the world might end up a pipedream. This would be an offence to a great inventor.