Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls for 'regulatory framework' for big tech
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said the web is "under threat" from giant tech firms. Writing for the Web Foundation on the 29th birthday of the web, he said regulation may be required to prevent tech giants from interfering with the "open, creative space."
Berners-Lee has previously spoken out about issues facing the modern web but this is the first time he's directly called for regulation. In his post, he said a "legal or regulatory framework" may be needed to improve accountability, manage social objectives and ease the tensions associated with the modern web.
Targeting firms including Facebook and Google, Berners-Lee criticised how "a handful of platforms" manipulate and control what people see online. The centralisation of power onto global social networks has enabled misinformation and abuse to spread across the web. According to the creator of the web, this goes against the spirit of his invention by threatening to put an end to the open platform originally envisioned.
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Whereas 20 years ago individuals frequently ran their own personal sites, today people are more likely to post on a social network. Instead of hosting their own platform, web users have clustered around a few centralised systems. As the tech giants have grown, they've come to acquire rivals, hire the top industry talent and obtain vast amounts of user data. Berners-Lee said this will result in "far less" innovation over the next 20 years than that seen during the web's infancy.
"These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors. They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry’s top talent," said Berners-Lee. "Add to this the competitive advantage that their user data gives them and we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last."
"Greater ambition" for the web
Berners-Lee is joining tech leaders including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff in calling for regulation for tech giants. His comments come as public concern about the role of social media and the internet in democracy, communication and society is growing.
People are coming to realise the power that platforms such as Facebook and Google hold. The highly-public debates around fake news and ad manipulation have prompted increased awareness of the scale at which tech firms operate.
Berners-Lee said people should challenge themselves to promote "greater ambitions" for the web, which may include emphasis on decentralisation and regulation for the largest firms. He called for people from across society to collaborate and define the future of the web, noting it's not too late to resolve the current problems.
"Let’s assemble the brightest minds from business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia to tackle the threats to the web’s future," said Berners-Lee. "At the Web Foundation, we are ready to play our part in this mission and build the web we all want. Let’s work together to make it possible."