Tim Berners-Lee worries the web becoming “Dysfunctional”

Since I first found the World Wide Web (some thirty odd years ago) I always believed its potential for the betterment of humanity. It has the ability to bring people together, offer a soapbox to express and debate ideas, to teach and provide information and to simply learn about the world around us (that some of us are unable to see) or simply to help one another.

When I read this morning on the BBC News site that the man who did a great deal to create the Web was worried that the Web was now on the decline, almost to the extent of becoming dysfunctional (there is a brief Video to go along with the article).

The rampant collection of personal data and more expressly poor collection and storage methods and blatant misuse of such data (by companies and unscrupulous app developers) are prime reasons for his worries. But also he mentions the widespread use of “Clickjacking” by companies/sites and also the civility of users.

To attempt to reverse this direction he has created A Contract For the Web which covers the (ideal) use of the Web by Governments, companies and we Users. This is something for which, I feel, the Vivaldi Community would be an ideal fit.

Yes, some the worst offenders have signed up (Microsoft, who Jon has called out more than once, Facebook and Google to name a few) but hopefully they have good intentions (who knows?) and will use their massive Web presence to help turn things around and make it a better place, a safer place to be.

So, to Jon and the principals at Vivaldi, should we not contribute?

This diverse, dynamic, respectful community could become a moving  force behind the contract. The Vivaldi Community already seems to be inline with the principles of this document and, I feel, we should sign up (if we have not already).

We could be a voice in improving the Web.

I say not that we each must sign up (I have) and if you agree to the contract’s principles please feel free to. If you do not, there should be no pressure to do so (even if the Vivaldi Community as as whole decides to join).

I truly believe this deserves consideration… What think you?

3 Replies to “Tim Berners-Lee worries the web becoming “Dysfunctional””

  1. I think the web is very broken. It is infested with parasites. Not that it can’t be fixed… It just takes a lot of effort, even if only as passive resistance. This is why I’ve signed up as an individual. There is a kind of sickness that seems to be slowly creeping its way through it, and it is beginning to manifest itself in everyday life, too.

    One sickness is the “information capitalism” and surveillance culture we now experience. People are now getting so used-to and desensitised to surveillance that they no longer care. How often have you heard the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument? What proponents don’t realise, is that although it predates him slightly, it was widely associated with Josef Goebbels. If you truly believe that statement, imagine you suddenly got transported to Nazi Germany. Do you still feel like you have nothing to hide? I have a friend who says he doesn’t care if advertisers know what brand of TV he prefers, or if the government reads his e-mails to his Gran, while trying to catch “those nasty terrorists”… but this assumes that the advertisers and your government are both competent and benevolant, and will remain so for the rest of time. What a tall order! What if your advertising profile has errors in it, which result in you being refused health insurance, or offered discriminatory prices at stores? What if you have a teenage daughter and you suddenly start being targeted with adverts for maternity clothes? What if your government suddenly decides that your particular religion or political views are now illegal? You’re doing nothing wrong, yet you’re now the “terrorist”, too! Finally, what if one of your many advertising profiles gets hacked? Someone who might want to open a credit card in your name now has enough personal details to do it, plus your shopping habits, to help them cover their tracks.

    Another sickness is evident in the language we now use to refer to things. For instance, how many times have you heard artwork referred to as “content”? Artists are no longer artists, they are “content creators”. We don’t enjoy art anymore, we “consume” it. This is very wrong. “Content” is an inert and worthless filler. Something vacuous to kill time. Something to fill the void of boredom. Doesn’t that cheapen and insult beautiful artworks, cultural assets? The idea that an artist is just a “content creator” reduces them to nothing more than a monkey at a typewriter! And to say we “consume content”!? Well, an animal consumes fodder and a fire consumes wood. I don’t “consume” books or films, or my favourite LP. I can appreciate it and notice more subtle details time and time again! This change in language colours (taints) our thoughts and leads towards evils such as Digital Restrictions Management, where pieces of artwork are broken by design, and purchasers are not free to use them for any purpose, no matter how legitimate, that the distributor hadn’t previously thought of. I can play an LP on almost any record player, or a non copy-protected CD on almost any CD-player. I can play a FLAC or ogg on virtually any digital device whatsoever. I can play it at my house or my friend’s house. If I lend my LP or CD to my friend, he might even like it enough to go out and buy his own copy. DRM kills all this. It only harms legitimate customers, who no longer have the freedom to play their legitimate copies of artwork where they want. Meanwhile, the criminals and pirates are the ones who are able to bypass the copy protection, and sell unrestricted copies of the artwork anyway. Thus it doesn’t stop the very crime it is designed to protect against!

    I’d rather pay for a service than be sold as a commodity. I’d also rather pay more for better quality and more freedom of use. If a service has to profile you and sell your data, or restrict your freedom to use it, to be profitable, something is rather wrong. With regards to data, I’m OK with untargeted advertising. If I browse a web page to do with motorbikes, I’m cool with seeing adverts for Arai helmets, Miller’s oil, or Kerrang! magazine. The advertisers don’t need to know anything about me to pick a suitable ad for the context. With regards to freedom of use, I’d happily pay twice the price (or more) for a copy of something without DRM. I regularly do: My LP and CD shelves are groaning under the weight, and I have a hard disk full of FLAC and ogg files.

    I think part of the problem is the monopoly that a few tech giants have. Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft (many of which, I see somewhat ironically, have signed this contract – perhaps as some sort of joke) are prime examples of Lord Acton’s famous quote “…absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

    I remember the net when it was in its infancy. It wasn’t perfect, but I’m genuinely not looking back with some kind of misplaced nostalgia. I have printouts and digital archives of some early web sites and resources, that are now long-since defunct. Despite the excessive animated gifs, clashing colours, comic sans ms and tags, the net really was a lot healthier.

  2. Personally I do not think the web is “broken”… Yes I agree it is being misused by some.
    the monopoly you speak of is part of the problem. Google, MS, Yahoo and the like have a business model that requires them to spy on their users and sell their personal information. Apple on the other hand just sells overpriced hardware and tries to suck you into their respective itunes stores to spend more.
    As for artwork becoming “Content”, it’s just the same as sports becoming “Entertainment”.
    Yes I too have find memories of what was the old internet… but must move on.

  3. I can understand and get behind the principles behind Tim’s idea, but to see companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft supporting it, I find it difficult to take it seriously. They have no idea of what”an open and safe Internet” means. Have you read their EULAs?

    If anything, they’ve signed up to it merely for the publicity and the opportunity to influence the contract to their own advantage.

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