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The internet is under threat, needs a legal framework: Tim Berners-Lee

On the 29th anniversary of the birth of the World Wide Web, its inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns against rising online misinformation and concentration of power among a handful internet companies.

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The World Wide Web (WWW aka Internet) turned 29 this March 12. According to research, 2018 will see over half of the world's population using the internet. Yet, its creator is unhappy about the outcome.

In an open letter, the 62-year old inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee says his creation has deviated from the path that he had envisioned and blames this on the rampant growth of misinformation on the web. He calls for greater regulation of big tech corporations such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to check their monopolistic strategies.

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

“The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponize the web at scale. In recent years, we have 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,” says Lee. 

Concentration of power on the web
Although Lee saw the internet as a medium of empowerment for the poor global populations, rising concentration of power among a handful of internet companies like Google and Facebook put a dent in his vision. According to him, internet is evolving into a tool for controlling and tracking the masses by stoking social tensions, interfering in elections and giving no regard to personal data.

“What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. These online gatekeepers can lock in their power by acquiring smaller rivals, buying up new innovations and hiring the industry’s top talent, making it harder for others to compete,” stated Lee.

Call for a regulatory framework
Lee says that all efforts made by large tech corporations to control misinformation and manipulation have been unsuccessful because the online platforms are established to make profits and do not care for the social good. He therefore suggests that today's web infrastructure needs a legal framework. By taking inputs from all demographics of population, the framework would keep the companies in check, so consumer interests are not exploited. 

"The responsibility — and sometimes the burden — of making these decisions falls on companies that have been built to maximize profit more than to maximize social good. A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions. Aligning the incentives of the technology sector with those of users and society at large, will require consulting a diverse group of people from business, government, civil society, academia and the arts." added Lee.