The inventor of the World Wide Web questioned what it has become on the 30th anniversary of its creation, noting democracy and privacy were now under serious threat by the internet.
The web’s designer, Tim Berners-Lee, said on Monday online users had found it “not so pretty” recently. But he added it wasn’t too late to straighten the ship’s course.
“They are all stepping back, suddenly horrified after the Trump and Brexit elections, realising that this web thing that they thought was that cool is actually not necessarily serving humanity very well,” Berners-Lee told reporters at CERN, the physics research centre outside Geneva where he invented the web.
“It seems we don’t finish reeling from one privacy disaster before moving onto the next one,” he added, citing concerns about whether social networks were supporting democracy.
People who had grown up taking the internet’s neutrality for granted now found the administration of US President Donald Trump had “rolled that back”.
There was also a threat of fragmentation of the internet into regulatory blocs – in the United States, the European Union, China and elsewhere – which would be “massively damaging”, Berners-Lee said.
In an open letter to mark the anniversary, he said many people now felt unsure about whether the web was a force for good, but it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume it could not change for the better in the next 30 years.
“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web,” he wrote.
“It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.”
He said the editorial power of Facebook’s algorithm was “scary”, but the company was clearly thinking about such questions a great deal, and it and other social media firms backed the principle of letting users extract and move their data.
In a sign of the times, Facebook on Monday pulled and then later restored ads by US presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren calling for tech giants to be broken up.
“We removed the ads because they violated our policies against [the] use of our corporate logo,” Facebook told AFP news agency. “In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.”
Warren unveiled a proposal days earlier to break up major technology firms, arguing Amazon, Google and Facebook hold ” too much power” in society.
“Curious why I think FB has too much power?” Warren said on Twitter. “Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power.”