Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who 28 years ago this March 12 submitted a document laying out his vision for what would become the worldwide web, is proud of what his creation has become but he's also concerned enough about certain issues that he's released an open letter about them today through the Web Foundation.
"[O]ver 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," Berners-Lee writes.
He says "we've lost control of our personal data" -- an issue that the FCC doesn't appear to be helping with of late.
"The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for 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 realise if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it," Berners-Lee writes. He goes on to lament the lack of a feedback channel for users with these companies.
What's more, Berners-Lee fears the consequences of how governments gain access to that data via relationships, or "coercion of" such companies.
Fake news also has Berners-Lee upset, despite efforts by Facebook, Google and others to address it.
"Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And, they choose what to show us based on algorithms which learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on – meaning that misinformation, or ‘fake news’, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases can spread like wildfire."
Related to the fake news scourge, Berners-Lee stresses that political advertising online needs to be transparent.
"Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data, means that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users," he writes.
The Web Foundation last month kicked off a 5-year strategy to address these issues and others as it seeks to deliver on its mission of advancing an open web as a public good and basic right.