Call for web ac­cess to all

The Citizen (KZN) - - NEWS - Lis­bon

– British com­puter sci­en­tist Tim Bern­ers-Lee, who in­vented the World Wide Web, ap­pealed this week for com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments not to leave be­hind half of the world pop­u­la­tion yet to have in­ter­net ac­cess, which in­cludes bil­lions of women and girls.

Bern­ers-Lee told the open­ing of the Europe’s largest tech­nol­ogy con­fer­ence that ev­ery­one had as­sumed his break­through in 1989, that con­nected hu­man­ity to tech­nol­ogy, would lead to good things – and it had for a while.

But he said the in­ter­net was “com­ing of age” and go­ing awry, with fake news and is­sues with pri­vacy, hate speech and po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion, as well as a grow­ing dig­i­tal di­vide be­tween those in richer and poorer coun­tries.

He called on com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments to join a “con­tract for the web” by next May to re­build trust in the in­ter­net and find new ways to mon­e­tise, reg­u­late and en­sure fair and af­ford­able ac­cess to the on­line world.

“Ev­ery­thing we do ... to make the web more pow­er­ful, it means we in­crease the dig­i­tal di­vide,” Bern­ers-Lee, 63, told the open­ing of the Web Sum­mit, dubbed “the Davos for geeks”, that at­tracts up to 70 000 peo­ple. “We’ve an obli­ga­tion to look af­ter both parts of the world.”

Bern­ers-Lee high­lighted stud­ies show­ing that half of the world pop­u­la­tion will be on­line by next year, but the rate of take-up was slow­ing con­sid­er­ably, po­ten­tially leav­ing bil­lions cut off from gov­ern­ment ser­vices, ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic de­bate.

His con­cerns were echoed by UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res, who stressed the need for a “dig­i­tal fu­ture that is safe and ben­e­fi­cial to all” to meet the UN’s global goals of end­ing in­equal­ity and ex­treme poverty by 2030. In 2016, the UN passed a res­o­lu­tion mak­ing dis­rup­tion of in­ter­net ac­cess a vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights.

Google’s Jac­que­line Fuller said it was a huge mile­stone for the web to reach 30 next year, adding her com­pany was one of 50 to have al­ready signed up to the pact.

Other sup­port­ers in­clude Face­book, British bil­lion­aire Richard Bran­son and the French gov­ern­ment. De­spite the chal­lenges, Bern­ers-Lee said he was op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of the in­ter­net. “The ad-based fund­ing model doesn’t have to work in the same way. It doesn’t have to cre­ate click­bait,” he said. –

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