Tech needs over­sight, says web in­ven­tor

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FRANK­FURT• The in­ven­tor of the World­Wide Web, Tim Berners- Lee, has called for pow­er­ful in­ter­net plat­forms and so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies to be reg­u­lated to pre­vent the in­ter­net from be­ing “weaponised at scale.”

T he Bri­tish com­puter sci­en­tist, in an open let­ter pub­lished on the 29th an­niver­sary of the cre­ation of the web, said a “new set of gate­keep­ers” was now dom­i­nant.

“The fact that power is con­cen­trated among so few com­pa­nies has made it pos­si­ble to weaponise the web at scale,” he wrote.

“In re­cent years, we’ve seen con­spir­acy the­o­ries trend on so­cial me­dia plat­forms, fake Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts stoke so­cial ten­sions, ex­ter­nal ac­tors in­ter­fere in elec­tions and crim­i­nals steal troves of per­sonal data.”

The in­ter­ven­tion by the 62- year- old MIT pro­fes­sor comes as some Euro­pean gov­ern­ments turn to leg­is­la­tion to curb “fake” news and hate speech that they fear is un­der­min­ing the ba­sis of their democ­ra­cies.

In Ger­many, a law en­tered force on Jan. 1 that fore­sees fines of up to 50 mil­lion eu­ros ( US$ 62 mil­lion) on in­ter­net plat­forms that fail to re­move hate speech — which is il­le­gal — within 24 hours.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron mean­while plans leg­is­la­tion that would em­power judges to or­der the re­moval of fake news dur­ing elec­tion cam­paigns.

And in Brus­sels, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has served no­tice to in­ter­net plat­forms that they must find a way to re­move ex­trem­ist con­tent within one hour of be­ing no­ti­fied, or face leg­is­la­tion com­pelling them to do so.

Berners- Lee, whose Web Foun­da­tion cam­paigns for a more open and in­clu­sive in­ter­net, doubted that com­pa­nies that have been built to max­i­mize prof­its can ad­e­quately ad­dress the prob­lem on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

“A l egal or reg­u­la­tor y frame­work that ac­counts for so­cial ob­jec­tives may help ease those prob­lems,” he said.

Ex­press­ing con­cern over how big in­ter­net plat­forms han­dle users’ data in tar­get­ing ad­ver­tis­ing, Berners-Lee said a bal­ance needed to be found be­tween the in­ter­ests of com­pa­nies and on­line cit­i­zens.

“This means t hink­ing about how we align the in­cen­tives of the tech sec­tor with those of users and so­ci­ety at large, and con­sult­ing a di­verse cross-sec­tion of so­ci­ety in the process.”

Tim Berners-Lee

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