Tim Berners-Lee’s Contract For The Web Is a Plan to Save It

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, co-founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, has a new “global action” plan to save the Internet from what he dubs a “digital dystopia.” His Contract for the Web would require governments, companies and individuals to pledge and act to protect the Internet from abuse and “ensure it benefits humanity.” “We need to turn the Web around now,” said Berners-Lee, who noted that, “people’s fear of bad things happening on the Internet is becoming, justifiably, greater and greater.”

The Guardian reports that 80 organizations, which have worked on the contract for a year, pinpointed “nine central principles to safeguard the Web — three each for governments, companies and individuals.” So far, 150 organizations, including Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Facebook, have endorsed the contract. Those who sign must prove “they are implementing the principles and working on solutions to the tougher problems, or face being removed from the list of endorsers.”

The contract states that governments must “do all they can to ensure that everyone who wants to can connect to the Web and have their privacy respected.” Internet access should be affordable and services should be provided for those with disabilities and those who speak minority languages. Individuals should have access to personal data and the “right to object or withdraw from having that data processed.”

Companies are required to “simplify privacy settings by providing control panels where people can access their data and manage their privacy options in one place” and also “diversify their workforces, consult broad communities before and after they release new products, and assess the risk of their technology spreading misinformation or harming people’s behavior or personal wellbeing.”

Individuals are called upon “to create rich and relevant content to make the Web a valuable place, build strong online communities where everyone feels safe and welcome, and finally, to fight for the Web, so it remains open to everyone, everywhere.”

In The New York Times, Berners-Lee revealed his long-ago hope that 30 years after the creation of the World Wide Web it would mainly be used to serve humanity. “The reality,” he admitted, “is much more complex.” He described communities “ripped apart as prejudice, hate and disinformation are peddled online … scammers … stalkers … and bad actors,” and especially calls out the threat of “targeted political ads in the United States’ 2020 presidential campaign and in elections elsewhere.”

“We are at a tipping point,” he wrote.

He urged “radical intervention from all those who have power over its future.” His Contract for the Web, he explained, “sets out ways to improve system design to eradicate incentives that reward clickbait or the spread of disinformation.” He also called for an immediate governmental ban on targeted political advertising and a diverse work force to ensure that products “serve all groups.”

France, Germany and Ghana have signed the Contract, as well as civil society organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and AccessNow. “Our World Wide Web Foundation, together with its global partners, will work to mobilize people around the world,” he said, urging everyone to join the foundation. “The best way to change the priorities and actions of those in power is to speak up.”