When a privilege, even the greatest one, becomes an acquired right part of our daily lives, not only do we stop fighting for it, but we begin to look at it from a different perspective.
The resulting advantages, even the most obvious ones, become predictable. The weak points instead, tend to gain increasingly significant weight. Any abuses and deviations are not identified as such but end up questioning in a Kafkaesque way the privilege itself.
A similar process is nowadays affecting the Web.
In just thirty years, the network, designed to connect people and freely share information, has become the square of the world, the newspaper, the encyclopedia, the library, the shop, the bank, the telephone, the office, the cinema and much more.
There is no doubt that the Internet has significantly improved on several fundamental levels the lives of the three and a half billion people who have access to it: access to information, freedom of expression and communication possibilities.
However, over the last decade, the network has developed into closed and centralised models that go in the opposite direction to the ones initially thought of.
It is clear that the new economy has favoured the development of monopolies and oligopolies in many sectors: from search engines to social networks and even operating systems themselves. Can you think of more than four competitors per sector without searching (precisely) on Google?
On the other hand, standards and interoperability, which should encourage the development of open technologies, not always match the interest and market strategies of technology companies.
Recent computer scandals, from PRISM to Cambridge Analytica, have compromised the already discussed reliability of technology giants in the field of data protection of us users.
In this regard, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, recently stated:
“The forces taking the web in the wrong direction have always been very strong. Whether you’re a company or a government, controlling the web is a way to make huge profits, or a way of ensuring you remain in power. The people are arguably the most important part of this, because it’s only the people who will be motivated to hold the other two to account.”
There are three main problems to be solved according to the father of the network who recently published “Contract for the Web”, an ambitious program for restructuring Internet:
"Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.
Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse."
The contract sounds like a manifesto and is addressed to governments, companies and individuals.
States are called upon to guarantee maximum freedom of connection and protection of sensitive data. Businesses are required to protect privacy in order to create greater online trust and to develop open technologies to support exchange and interoperability. All of us, as citizens, are encouraged to become active collaborators of the network, to choose services that value privacy and to “fight for the web, so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.”
Will this be enough to save the network, to keep it decentralized, inclusive, open and as free as it was thought to be? Surely not if we stand by and watch.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee (copyright: Reuters)
Credits: - English translation by Paris Nobile
- Sir Berners-Lee's portrait by Reuters