The World Wide Web has matured as it is decades old. Its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee tends to stay quiet and doesn't say too many proclamations. But when he does, he says things that should concern the overall web.
Berners-Lee imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.
"In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open."
But things change as the web embraces new trends. In his paper, Berners-Lee says that he is worried about three trends which he believes we all must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential: a tool which serves for all humanity.
The three challenges that threat the modern web have one common theme: large organizations in trading on the complexity and network effects of the entire social web. Big companies, given by their sheer size and influence, can dedicate their resources to figure out the best way to target internet users by collecting information from platforms that are available.
Using the information and data, they can show advertising and deliver contents that are precisely targeted, tailored to specific person. From age to gender, demographic to even political alignment. Users have almost no control over this, and they don't have a way to tell whether this is happening or not, nor the ability to stop it.
"These are complex problems, and the solutions will not be simple," said Berners-Lee.
"I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today. All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community. All kinds of people have helped, from politicians fighting to keep the web open, standards organisations like W3C enhancing the power, accessibility and security of the technology, and people who have protested in the streets."
Berners-Lee said that the Web Foundation is working hard to address the following three issues.
1. People Have No Control Of Their Personal Data
The business model of many websites offer free contents in exchange for personal information. To use the free services many of them offer, users need to first agree on their long and confusing terms and conditions documents.
"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."
While some people don't mind some of their information being collected in exchange of free services, "But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realize if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it."
Furthermore, users often don't have any way of telling back to companies about the data they'd rather not share. Like for example, information that they want to keep confidential to third-parties.
2. Misinformation That Spreads Easily On The Web
Using the method, those websites can show contents they think people will click on.
Things that can either be surprising, shocking or designed to the viewers' biases are those that tend to appeal the most. This can, and had led to people seeing misinformation on the web, as occurred as "fake news." With bad intentions, this system can spread misinformation for financial or even political gains.
3. Online Political Advertising Needs Transparency And Understanding
Some advertisements that 'follow' users everywhere they go on the web, are being used in many unethical ways. Like pointing them to fake news websites, for instance.
"We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the 'internet blind spot' in the regulation of political campaigning."
The internet is decentralized by design. and it should not be controlled by companies or the government. But the World Wide Web has however turned into the hands of large corporations and governments. According to Berners-Lee, this isn't what it meant to be.