WWW in­ven­tor wants new ‘con­tract’ to make web safe

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

THE in­ven­tor of the World Wide Web on Mon­day called for a “con­tract” to make in­ter­net safe and ac­ces­si­ble for ev­ery­one as Europe’s largest tech event be­gan in Lis­bon amid a back­lash over its role in spread­ing “fake news”.

Some 70,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to take part in the four-day Web Sum­mit, dubbed “the Davos for geeks”, in­clud­ing speak­ers from lead­ing global tech com­pa­nies, politi­cians and start-ups hop­ing to at­tract at­ten­tion from the over 1,500 in­vestors who are sched­uled to at­tend.

Tech firms now find them­selves on the de­fen­sive, with crit­ics ac­cus­ing them of not do­ing enough to curb the spread of “fake news” which has helped po­larise elec­tion cam­paigns around the world and of max­imis­ing prof­its by har­vest­ing data on con­sumers’ brows­ing habits.

Bri­tish com­puter sci­en­tist Tim Bern­ers-Lee, who in 1989 in­vented the World Wide Web as a way to ex­change in­for­ma­tion, said the in­ter­net had de­vi­ated from the goals its founders had en­vis­aged.

“All kinds of things have things have gone wrong. We have fake news, we have prob­lems with pri­vacy, we have peo­ple be­ing pro­filed and ma­nip­u­lated,” he said in an open­ing ad­dress.

Bern­ers-Lee, 63, called on gov­ern­ments, com­pa­nies and ci­ti­zens to iron out a “com­plete con­tract” for the web that will make the in­ter­net “safe and ac­ces­si­ble” for all by May 2019, the date by which 50 per cent of the world will be on­line for the first time.

He has just launched In­rupt, a startup which is build­ing an open source plat­form called “Solid” which will de­cen­tralise the web and al­low users to choose where their data is kept, along with who can see and ac­cess it.

‘Go­ing through a funk’

Solid in­tends to al­low users to by­pass tech gi­ants such as Google and Face­book.

The two tech gi­ants now have di­rect in­flu­ence over nearly three quar­ters of all in­ter­net traf­fic thanks to the vast amounts of apps and ser­vices they own such as YouTube, What­sApp and In­sta­gram.

Em­ploy­ees of Google, Face­book and other tech gi­ants have in recent months gone pub­lic with their re­grets, call­ing the prod­ucts they helped build harm­ful to so­ci­ety and overly ad­dic­tive.

Tech gi­ants are also un­der fire for hav­ing built up vir­tual mo­nop­o­lies in their ar­eas.

Ama­zon ac­counts for 93 per cent of all e-book sales while Google swal­lows up 92 per cent of all Euro­pean in­ter­net­search ad spend­ing.

“I think tech­nol­ogy is go­ing through a funk . . . it’s a pe­riod of re­flec­tion,” Web Sum­mit founder and CEO Paddy Cos­grave said.

“With ev­ery new tech­nol­ogy you go through these cy­cles. The ini­tial ex­cite­ment of the printed press was re­placed in time by a great fear that it was ac­tu­ally a bad thing. Over time it has ac­tu­ally worked out OK.”

Among those sched­uled to speak at the event is Christo­pher Wylie, a whistle­blower who ear­lier this year said users’ data from Face­book was used by Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tancy Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica to help elect US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump – a claim de­nied by the com­pany.

An­other tech vet­eran who has be­come crit­i­cal of the sec­tor, Twit­ter co­founder Ev Wil­liams, will on Thursday de­liver the clos­ing ad­dress.

He left Twit­ter in 2011 and went on to co-found on­line pub­lish­ing plat­form Medium, which is sub­scrip­tion based and un­like Twit­ter favours in-depth writ­ing about is­sues.

The prob­lem with the cur­rent in­ter­net model is that neg­a­tive con­tent gets more at­ten­tion on­line, and thus gain more ad­ver­tis­ers, ac­cord­ing to Mitchell Baker, the pres­i­dent of the Mozilla Foun­da­tion, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion which pro­motes In­ter­net in­no­va­tion.

“To­day ev­ery­one has a voice but the prob­lem is . . . the loud­est and of­ten most vi­o­lent voices get mag­ni­fied be­cause the most neg­a­tive, scari­est things at­tract our at­ten­tion,” she told me­dia in a recent in­ter­view.

The Web Sum­mit was launched in Dublin in 2010 and moved to Lis­bon six years later. The Por­tuguese gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates the event will gen­er­ate € 300 mil­lion ($347 mil­lion) for Lis­bon in ho­tel and other rev­enues.

FRAN­CISCO LEONG/AFP

English sci­en­tist Tim Bern­ers-Lee ad­dresses the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 2018 edi­tion of the an­nual Web Sum­mit tech­nol­ogy con­fer­ence in Lis­bon on Mon­day.

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