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He invented the web. Now he’s warning of a looming ‘digital dystopia’

Posted: 8:16 AM, Nov 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-25 08:16:46-05

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web. (Oliver Berg/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has warned of a “digital dystopia” if the world fails to tackle threats such as disinformation and invasion of privacy.

Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist who submitted his first proposal for an “information management system” in 1989, has reiterated his call for a Contract for the Web , urging governments, companies and individuals to safeguard it by implementing nine key principles.

These proposals, made by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation, aim to stem the rise of online threats.

Ahead of a conference in Berlin Monday, Berners-Lee tweeted a warning of the risks faced.

He wrote: “If we fail to defend the free and open web, we risk a digital dystopia of entrenched inequality and abuse of rights.”

In an earlier statement on his foundation’s website, he called the web “one of the defining opportunities of our time,” adding that collaborative action must be taken “to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine.”

By Sunday, the Contract for the Web had received the backing of more than 160 companies, including Facebook, Microsoft and Google, according to the press release.

In addition to thousands of individuals, the governments of France, Germany and Ghana were also signatories to its founding principles.

The contract lays out three sets of principles which governments, companies and individuals should each adhere to respectively.

Among other suggestions, governments need to ensure that everyone has internet access and people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights need to be respected and protected, while companies must respect and support human rights.

On an individual level, people should hold power to account and build strong online communities and stand up for excluded groups when they are being targeted or abused.

Earlier this year, Berners-Lee published an open letter to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the web, asking the world to “fight” for a web that drives quality, opportunity and creativity.