Sir Tim Berners-Lee launches new ‘Contract for the Web’
Sir Tim Berners-Lee case for the web

Sir Tim Berners-Lee launches new ‘Contract for the Web’

Founder of The World Wide Web Foundation, and internet originator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has announced a new campaign and a contract dubbed a ‘Magna Carta for the web’. He called for businesses, individuals and governments to support the ‘Contract for the Web’ at the Web Summit in Lisbon on Monday.

The campaign aims to rally support around these central standards and help develop them into a contract to be published in May 2019 – predicted to be the ‘50/50 moment’ when more than half the world’s population will be online.

Its starter principles define the responsibilities that governments, companies and citizens each hold, to create a better web.

The initiative has already secured backing from over 50 organisations, including the French government, civil society organisations such as Access Now, Internet Sans Frontières, Project Isizwe, NewNow and the Digital Empowerment Foundation, as well as companies including Google, AnchorFree, Facebook and Cloudflare.

Speaking at the Web Summit, Berners-Lee said:

“The web is at a crucial point. More than half the world’s population remains offline, and the rate of new people getting connected is slowing. Those of us who are online are seeing our rights and freedoms threatened.

We need a new Contract for the Web, with clear and tough responsibilities for those who have the power to make it better. I hope more people will join us to build the web we want.

The Web Foundation hopes that by committing to the following principles, governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone:

Governments will

  • Ensure everyone can connect to the internet so that anyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can participate actively online.
  • Keep all of the internet available, all of the time so that no one is denied their right to full internet access.
  • Respect people’s fundamental right to privacy so everyone can use the internet freely, safely and without fear.

Companies will

  • Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone so that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web.
  • Respect consumers’ privacy and personal data so people are in control of their lives online.
  • Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst so the web really is a public good that puts people first.

Citizens will

  • Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
  • Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
  • Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

A Case for the Web

These principles are backed by the organisation’s Case for the Web report. It reveals that less than half the world’s population is online today, and that the growth of internet users is slowing.

It also raises warnings of a power shift and glaring privacy issues:

The distributed power of the web has shifted to lay in the hands of just a few, online abuse is on the rise, and the content we see is increasingly susceptible to manipulation.

“Over 1.2 billion internet users live in countries where net neutrality is not protected, and more than 1.5 billion people live in countries with no comprehensive law on personal data protection, leaving them particularly vulnerable to increasingly common incidents involving breaches of personal data.”

Internet of Business says

Since its inception, Sir Tim Berner’s Lee has been a proponent of the free and open nature of the web, and has often warned against complacency in protecting it. This is increasingly important as the internet becomes an unconscious part of the fabric of our daily lives.

In 2014 he said:

“If we spend a certain amount of time using the internet we have to spend a little proportion of that time defending it, worrying about it, looking out for it… Do me a favour, fight for it with me.”

In September 2018 Berners-Lee launched the Solid initiative, which seeks to give web users greater control over who has access to their data.

More recently he has been vocal about the power wielded by big tech companies, whose financial, political and social influence outweighs many nations.

Since net neutrality was repealed in the US at the end of 2017, fears have grown around what this might mean for end-users and businesses alike.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) being built upon easy, open access to the internet, the possibility of such traffic being throttled or blocked, and related businesses potentially being held to ransom for greater networking fees, introduces great uncertainty.

Those that do fork-out a premium for prioritised traffic, in this scenario, contribute to an ecosystem that creates unfair advantages and reduced consumer power and choice – putting small businesses and start-ups at the mercy of established companies with bigger pockets.