When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, he probably never foresaw all the challenges that the internet would bring along. Now the British engineer has unveiled a set of nine principles dubbed the Contract for the Web which aims to promote better online governance by addressing problems such as censorship, misinformation (better known as fake news) and data surveillance.
Such an ambitious project can definitely never be accomplished by the World Wide Web Foundation on its own. Berners-Lee already has the backing of leading tech companies Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, DuckDuckGo and several nonprofit organisations. A total of 150 organisations had so far acknowledged their support by the time of going to press, but only three governments namely Ghana, Germany and France according to The Verge.
“If we don’t act now — and act together — to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering” its potential for good,” Berners-Lee said in a statement. He is among the speakers at the UN Internet Governance Forum to be held in Berlin this week.
“I will stand up for the preservation of the free internet that we have grown to know and love in recent decades,” said a statement from German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.
Berners-Lee pointed out that the web was at a tipping point and the response of those who have power over its future would determine whether it would live up to its potential as a global force for good or lead the world into a digital dystopia.
The inventor argued that companies and governments deserve equal seats at the table in his defense for including tech bigwigs Google and Facebook in drawing up the Contract for the Web. The decision did not go down well with the civil society which has accused the tech companies of human rights breaches when collecting and using personal data. Amnesty International claimed that the business models of the companies amounted to a threat to human rights.
Some countries have come under fire in recent times for enabling an internet blackout, such as Iran, Eritrea, Benin, Sudan and Ethiopia.
“Citizens must hold those in power accountable, demand their digital rights be respected and help foster healthy conversation online,” asserts Berners-Lee.
The contract lists nine core principles for governments, companies, and individuals to adhere to, including responsibilities to provide affordable, reliable internet access and to respect civil discourse and human dignity.
The nine principles of Contract for the Web
- Principle 1 – Ensure everyone can connect to the internet.
- Principle 2 – Keep all of the internet available, all of the time.
- Principle 3 – Respect and protect people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights.
- Principle 4 – Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone.
- Principle 5 – Respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust.
- Principle 6 – Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.
- Principle 7 – Be creators and collaborators on the Web.
- Principle 8 – Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity.
- Principle 9 – Fight for the Web.
The contract proposes frameworks for national laws which will protect citizens’ online privacy and data even though it is not legally binding.