Contract for the Web, backed by 150 organisations, seeks to protect the web from becoming a ‘dystopia’ dominated by misinformation and abuse
Tim Berners-Lee, the British engineer who launched the World Wide Web in 1989, has released a wide-ranging action plan to save the web from becoming a “digital dystopia” dominated by political manipulation and privacy violations.
The Contract for the Web was developed by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation along with some 80 representatives of governments, companies and civil society with the aim of keeping knowledge freely available and ensuring “pursuit of profit is not at the expense of human rights and democracy”.
It outlines nine essential principles for safeguarding the web, three each for governments, companies and individuals.
Those endorsing the contract are required to make concrete commitments to uphold those principles, and if they’re found not to be implementing those plans, they’ll be removed from the list of endorsers.
Governments are encouraged to ensure everyone can connect to the web and have their privacy respected, while companies are asked to make internet access affordable and develop web services for those with disabilities or who speak minority languages.
Companies are also asked to assess whether their technology risks spreading misinformation or harming people’s behaviour or personal wellbeing, while individuals are called upon to create rich and relevant content and to fight for the web’s openness.
It’s necessary to “act now” in order to prevent the web from being “misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine” and to ensure it fulfils its potential for good, Berners-Lee said in a statement on Monday.
“We’re at a tipping point,” he wrote in a Sunday opinion piece in The New York Times. “How we respond to this abuse will determine whether the web lives up to its potential as a global force for good or leads us into a digital dystopia.”
More than 150 organisations are backing the plan, including tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook and non-governmental organsations such as Reporters Without borders.
Governments including Germany and France have also said they would back the contract.
The contract, which is not legally binding, proposes a framework for national laws aimed at protecting online privacy and personal data, something Berners-Lee’s Foundation says current institutions fall short of.
Berners-Lee defended his inclusion of companies such as Google and Facebook amongst the contract’s endorsers, saying it is “really important” that companies and governments have “equal seats at the table”.
“Citizens must hold those in power accountable, demand their digital rights be respected and help foster healthy conversation online,” he said.
Last week Amnesty International said Google and Facebook were “enabling human rights harm at a population scale” due to factors such as their reliance on collecting and exploiting individuals’ data.
Google was recently found to have controversially acquired the personal health records of 50 million US citizens without their consent, in a move it defended as standard business practice.