The World Wide Web's inventor warns it's in peril on 28th anniversary
Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, now wants to save it.
The computer scientist who wrote the blueprint for what would become the World Wide Web 28 years ago today is alarmed at what has happened to it in the past year.
"Over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity," he said in a statement issued from London. He cited compromised personal data; fake news that he says has "spread like wildfire"; and the lack of regulation in political advertising, which he says threatens democracy.
"Even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far," he said, in an allusion to WikiLeaks' disclosure of what documents claim is a vast CIA surveillance operation. "It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion."
Berners-Lee, 61, who was knighted, founded Web Foundation in 2009 to improve the web as part of a five-year plan.
When Berners-Lee submitted his original proposal for the Web, he imagined it as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.
But his faith, and those of privacy advocates and cybersecurity experts, has been badly shaken by a series of high-profile hacks and the dissemination of fake news through the use of data science and armies of bots.
Front and center: The WikiLeaks bombshell. The treasure trove of more than 8,000 pages reads like a John Le Carre spy novel overrun with Edward Snowden-like protagonists. The CIA, with sophisticated hacking tools, has been angling to turn popular consumer devices such as iPhones, Samsung TVs and Android smartphones into surveillance devices, the documents indicate.
Imagine that Big Brother scenario extended to the millions of smart devices such as digital thermostats and fire alarms feeding the Internet of Things ecosystem, and you have a problem that could eviscerate the privacy of billions of people, say security experts.
Berners-Lee is just the latest high-profile technologist to share concerns over what former Cisco Systems executive Monique Morrow calls a fundamental assault on privacy and cybersecurity, with critical infrastructure — banking systems, the grid — hanging in the balance. "How do we use technology responsibly?" she asked at a SXSW talk in Austin Saturday.