by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, The Guardian
World Wide Web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns of three trends to be overcome in order to sustain the Web as beneficial for everyone.
The first trend is a loss of individuals’ control over their personal data, encouraged by many websites’ current business models. Berners-Lee says mass online surveillance and other insidious practices create a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, such as sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.
The second trend he notes is the proliferation of misinformation by bad actors for financial or political profit. 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 that 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. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.
The third trend is a lack of transparency in political advertising online. And there are suggestions that some political adverts – in the US and around the world – are being used in unethical ways – to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups.
Berners-Lee’s solutions to these challenges include scientists cooperating with Web companies to put data ownership back into users’ hands, a pushback against misinformation by encouraging continued opposition by Web gatekeepers, and “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.” Read the article.