Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has warned that major technology firms, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, have so much power they could use it to “weaponise the web”.
He is also concerned that tech giants could use their dominance to stifle innovation for the next 20 years, by trampling all over any startups that dare to challenge them.
In a blog post marking the world wide web’s 29th birthday, Sir Tim also suggested that the best way to stop this happening might be through regulation.
“The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today. What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” he wrote. “This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.
“These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors. They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry’s top talent. Add to this the competitive advantage that their user data gives them and we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last.”
He’s also worried about the spread of misinformation, data theft, fake Facebook and Twitter accounts designed to stoke social tensions and sway public opinion ahead of political elections.
Sir Tim added: “Companies are aware of the problems and are making efforts to fix them — with each change they make affecting millions of people. The responsibility — and sometimes burden — of making these decisions falls on companies that have been built to maximise profit more than to maximise social good. A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions.”
He’s urging people to come together to tackle the threats to the web’s future head-on, to help turn it into something that will “reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions”.
“It may sound utopian, it may sound impossible to achieve after the setbacks of the last two years, but I want us to imagine that future and build it,” he added.
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