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Web inventor Berners-Lee wants to save us from a digital dystopia

The man widely credited with inventing the internet claims his creation is now driving the world toward a “digital dystopia.”

No, that won’t be good for anyone, and that’s why Tim Berners-Lee wants to do something about it.

The computer scientist this week launched Contract for the Web, a lofty endeavor that calls on governments, companies, and citizens to help build and maintain a better online world by ridding it of its harmful influences, such as disinformation, privacy violations, and abuse. While critics may respond with a curt, “Good luck with that,” Berners-Lee insists strong action needs to be taken right now to save the internet.

Contract for the Web is driven by nine core principles that include respecting and protecting people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights, building strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity, and making the internet affordable and accessible to everyone — all of the time.

Speaking to the Guardian about the initiative, Berners-Lee said: “I think people’s fear of bad things happening on the internet is becoming, justifiably, greater and greater.

“If we leave the web as it is, there’s a very large number of things that will go wrong. We could end up with a digital dystopia if we don’t turn things around.”

Eighty organizations representing governments, companies, and civil society spent more than a year putting the contract together, with 150 big-hitters from the tech industry having so far given it their support, among them Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, and Twitter.

Among others, both Facebook and Twitter have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years over their handling of various kinds of content and user data on their platforms. To remain listed as a supporter of the initiative, all of the backers will have to demonstrate what efforts they’re making to help Contract for the Web reach its goals.

Berners-Lee told the Guardian that the forces taking the web in the wrong direction “have always been very strong,” adding that whether you’re a company or a government, “controlling the web is a way to make huge profits, or a way of ensuring you remain in power. The people are arguably the most important part of this, because it’s only the people who will be motivated to hold the other two to account.”

In a blog post published this week, the British computer scientist said we are experiencing what he described as a “pivotal moment for the web,” adding that we therefore have “a shared responsibility to fight for the web we want.”

The plan is a mightily ambitious one, and it will do well to succeed on all fronts, but Berners-Lee is determined to do what he can to take the web to a better place, and avoid that digital dystopia.

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Trevor Mogg
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