Business Tech

A ‘Magna Carta’ for the Internet? #ForTheWeb advocates say yes

The internet, in its current form, no longer reflects the open, accessible knowledge-sharing platform envisioned by early web-pioneers in the 1990s. Instead, users lack control over their personal data and are forced to navigate a corporate-controlled internet in which questionable information runs rampant, a new report from the World Wide Web Foundation declared.

“We’ve lost control of our personal data and that data is being [weaponized] against us,” the report said. “The power to access news and information from around the globe is being manipulated by malicious actors. Online harassment is rampant, and governments are increasingly censoring information online — or shutting down the internet altogether.”

lee400x500The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee — who created the first hyperlink and URL while a scientist in the early 1990s — also called for a new “Magna Carta” for the internet to govern responsible use of data, increased accessibility, and user safety.

“Humanity connected by technology on the web is functioning in a dystopian way. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken,” Berners-Lee said during a recent interview with “The Guardian.” “This is a contract to make the web one which serves humanity, science, knowledge and democracy.”

But can the “dystopian” internet be reined in? Probably not. The reality is that the corporate interests ruling the web wield immense power, a fact highlighted in the foundation’s own report.

“More than 90% of online searches go through Google … More than half of cloud services run on Amazon ... Facebook boasts over 2.2 billion active monthly users,” the report said, adding that algorithms increasingly drive resume screening, investments, and other key services. And while these corporations may have a moral or civic obligation to responsibility provide their services to the public, the foundation seems somewhat out-of-touch in believing any of these concerns will trump the bottom-line.

govsensorship500x400Moreover, government censorship increasingly is becoming the norm, notably in China where the “Great Firewall” restricts web-users who lack the tech savvy to implement a virtual private network. Other countries, however, also experience web censorship; Vietnam recently brought Chinese censors to Hanoi to train authorities in restricting internet content, and anyone who criticizes the government can expect a hefty fine, leading to considerable self-censorship. Other countries also have moved to restrict access to content on the web.

The foundation’s report calls for increased data privacy protections, more interest from governments around the world in developing internet access for marginalized populations and women, and for decision-making algorithms to be open to public scrutiny. These proposals, however, would need to be enacted by many of the same governments intent on curtailing web access, or the corporations bent on squeezing every dollar from the data they collect.

The foundation seems undeterred by these obstacles, however, and believes that its platform, titled #ForTheWeb, could be successful if enough people rally to the cause.

“The web is under threat — but the web we want is not out of reach,” the report said. “It’s up to us to overcome these threats and ensure the web remains an open platform that is truly a force of good for everyone.”

 

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