The name Tim Berners-Lee is one that revolutionized the world as we know it. When he invented the World Wide Web back in 1989, he became one of the most influential people in the tech world. Now, Berners-Lee is taking it upon himself to save the Internet from itself.
As reported by The Guardian, his new “Contract for the Web” will serve as a global action plan to prevent the Internet from turning the world into a “digital dystopia.” As of now, more than 150 organizations have signed the pledge and agree to its nine core principles. Big Tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are leading the way along with several governments.
The man who is nearly singlehandedly responsible for the Internet is now stepping in to save his creation. In today’s world of online discourse, hate speech, privacy violations, and fake news, the matter is more urgent than ever. Of course, Berners-Lee feels the same way. He said, “It’s not that we need a 10-year plan for the Web, we need to turn the Web around now.”
Published by his Web Foundation, that is exactly what the “Contract for the Web” aims to do. Over 80 individual organizations worked to draft the document’s nine principles for more than a year. The plan’s structure reinforces the fact that saving the Web is the responsibility of government, companies, and individuals alike. It outlines three specific principles for each group to follow moving forward.
Governments Taking the Lead
The first three principles of the “Contract for the Web” are aimed at governments. That makes a lot of sense as they have the most control over the Internet. Just look at the differences between the U.S. where it is a tool for communication and creativity and places like North Korea and China where the government wields it as a weapon to squash protests and free speech.
Primary among the principles is that governments should “Ensure everyone can connect to the Internet.” While not having access to the Internet seems absurd to many people, it is a sad reality for others. Moving forward, ensuring that equal access is available will close gaps between different socioeconomic groups.
Likewise, the “Contract” suggests that governments have a right to keep the Internet available non-stop. Finally, the third principle states that governments should respect the privacy and data rights of their citizens.
Currently, France, Germany, and Ghana have signed on to the “Contract.” Though locations like the aforementioned North Korea and China most certainly won’t agree, hope remains that the U.S. will grant its approval and take steps to support the pact.
Big Tech in Action
It comes as no surprise that Big Tech companies make up the majority of signatures on the “Contract for the Web”. Firms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft are seen as Web leaders and must act like it.
The “Contract” outlines three principles for these organizations to follow moving forward. For one, they must make the Internet affordable and accessible. It’s easy to see how this mission will need to be carried out hand-in-hand with local governments. The pending merger between T-Mobile and Sprint is a primary example of this as the companies hope to expand 5G coverage to rural America.
Moreover, the “Contract” urges companies to “Respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust.”
This point will take a great deal of work as many Big Tech companies do not currently have the trust of consumers. Amid data scandals from Facebook and incidents like Google illegally accessing medical records, more and more individuals are putting these companies under the microscope.
The third principle urges companies to develop technology that “supports the best in humanity and challenges the worst.” That one shouldn’t be hard to achieve considering the massive breakthroughs being made in technology today.
The “Contract for the Web” emphasizes that the actions of large organizations alone won’t be enough to change the script on the Internet. After all, many of the Web’s current problems stem from social media platforms where individual users stir up dissent in search of likes, followers, or exposure.
Berners-Lee’s plan outlines three principles for individuals to follow. First, it states that everyone should strive to be a creator and collaborator on the Web. Considering that was its original purpose, it makes a lot of sense that this point is included. The “Contract” also states that people need to “Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity.”
While communities are certainly being built, not all of them are positive. Even so, platforms like Reddit allow users of a similar mindset or with similar interests to come together and share. The next step is to start making the majority of those interactions positive—or, at the very least, not toxic.
Finally, Berners-Lee suggests that it is everyone’s responsibility to fight for the Web. There is currently a hot debate raging about net neutrality and access to the Internet. It will take everyone’s support to guarantee a free and open Internet moving forward.
Though reforming what has become a hotbed for hate won’t be an easy task, if each of us steps up to do our part the Internet just might start looking a little happier.