Tim Berners-Lee warns not to take the web for granted

Tim Berners-Lee first filed his paper describing the World Wide Web 25 years ago today – and he’s marking the milestone by calling for users to protect net neutrality and fight against surveillance.

Berners-Lee’s proposal – you can read it here – was for a better way to manage information at the Cern lab in Switzerland, and describes “a ‘web’ of notes with links”. His boss, Berners-Lee has said, judged it “vague but exciting”.

The British scientist has dedicated much of the past two and half decades to pushing to keep the web open, and marked the anniversary of his paper by calling for the web to be kept neutral and free of surveillance.

It’s possible that people end up taking the web for granted and having it pulled out from underneath them

“It’s time for us to make a big communal decision,” he told the BBC. “In front of us are two roads – which way are we going to go? Are we going to continue on the road and just allow the governments to do more and more and more control – more and more surveillance?”

“Or are we going to set up a bunch of values?” he asked. “Are we going to set up something like a Magna Carta for the web and say, actually, now it’s so important, so much part of our lives, that it becomes on a level with human rights?”

Berners-Lee called for three areas for his “Magna Carta” to address: how to connect those who aren’t yet online; who has the right to collect our data, and how they can use it; and creating a high-performance open architecture that will work on any device, rather than having to “fall back into proprietary alternatives”.

To that end, he and other activists have set up the Web We Want campaign, urging users to take action to protect the web from negative influences.

“It’s possible that people end up taking the web for granted and having it pulled out from underneath them,” he told The New York Times.

Waste of time?

While the web can clearly be a tool for good, it’s also a bit of a time waster, what with videos of dogs flying, kittens on Roombas and Twitter.

Berners-Lee defended his creation, saying you can do as you please with it. “I don’t have a lot of sympathy with people who say: ‘There’s so much rubbish on the web’,” he told the BBC. “Well, if there’s so much rubbish, if it’s rubbish, don’t read it. Go read something else.”

However, he admitted to the New York Times some surprise at what’s ended up online. “I spent a lot of time trying to make sure people could put anything on the web, that it was universal,” he told the newspaper. “Obviously, I had no idea that people would put literally everything on it.”

Berners-Lee will be taking part in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit at 8pm tonight.

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