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World Wide Web: 30 years of wonder and warnings

Tim Berners-Lee (left), speaking at a Web Summit.
Tim Berners-Lee (left), speaking at a Web Summit. RFI/Marc Etcheverry

As the World Wide Web marks thirty years of existence, its inventor Tim Berners-Lee has called on Internet users to maintain "complete control" of their data. His open letter hails progress but warns that people need to protect themselves.

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Addressing his World Wide Web Foundation on Monday, Berners-Lee hailed the opportunities the web had created, giving marginalised groups a voice and making daily life easier.

But, he also warned that "it had created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crimes easier to commit".

Berners-Lee last year launched a development platform called "Solid" aimed at giving users control of their data.

Speaking to reporters from the Washington Post last week, he said the platform aimed "to separate the apps from the data storage" so users could decide where and how they would share their personal information.

"We shouldn't assume that the world is going to stay like it is," he said.

Enforceable laws needed

“People needed to do more to protect themselves and their data and not to simply expect that governments will look out for their best interests”, he argued.

He acknowledged Monday that enforceable laws would be needed to protect the most sensitive personal data.

"Sometimes it has to be legislation which says personal data, such as genetic data, should never be used," he said.

Berners-Lee is one of the pioneer voices in favour of net neutrality, and has expressed the view that Internet Service Providers (ISP) should supply "connectivity with no strings attached", and should neither control nor monitor the browsing activities of customers without their expressed consent.

He advocates the idea that net neutrality is a kind of human network right.

"Threats to the Internet, such as companies or governments that interfere with or snoop on Internet traffic, compromise basic human network rights."

In addition to his work advocating for data protection, Berners-Lee has launched a "Contract for the Web", aimed at ensuring the integrity of online information.

More than 50 companies and organisations, including Facebook, Google, as well as the French government, have signed the contract, which will be published in full in May 2019.

Optimism prevails

He was nevertheless optimistic that the problems could be fixed.

"Given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can't be changed for the better in the next 30," he wrote.

In 1989, Berners-Lee was working for the European Organisation for Nuclear Reasearch (CERN) in Geneva and he was looking for a more efficient way to access and share information for his work.

He went on to create all the codes including HTML and HTTP which still form the architecture of the web today.

His parents worked on the first commercially built computer, the Ferranti Mark 1.

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