Expressing dismay that the World Wide Web he invented in 1989 has come to be overrun with hatred and controlled by a few giant tech companies who abuse user privacy to boost their bottom lines, Tim Berners-Lee argued in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that Silicon Valley titans like Facebook, Google, and Apple as well as corporate behemoths like Amazon should be broken up to allow more democratic alternatives to flourish.
"What naturally happens is you end up with one company dominating the field so through history there is no alternative to really coming in and breaking things up. There is a danger of concentration."
—Tim Berners-Lee"What naturally happens is you end up with one company dominating the field so through history there is no alternative to really coming in and breaking things up," Berners-Lee said. "There is a danger of concentration."
The man credited as being the father of the worldwide web—which officially turned 29 in March of this year—went on to argue that corporate control of the internet has strangled innovation, allowing a small number of massive companies to seize control of the web for their own profit-driven purposes.
However, Berners-Lee expressed hope that tech giants could be "disrupted by a small player beating them out of the market" or by "interest going somewhere else."
"I am disappointed with the current state of the web," Berners-Lee concluded, noting that social media platforms like Twitter have become vehicles for propagating hate and lies rather than places of genuine human interaction. "We have lost the feeling of individual empowerment and to a certain extent also I think the optimism has cracked."
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Berners-Lee's call for tech giants to be cut down to size comes amid a growing congressional push for an "Internet Bill of Rights," which would expand access to the internet, enshrine strong net neutrality rules, prevent mass data collection by tech giants, and restore essential privacy protections that have been systematically eroded by giant corporations.
"As our lives and the U.S. economy are more tied to the internet, it is essential to provide Americans with basic protections online."
—Rep. Ro Khanna"The internet age and digital revolution have changed Americans' way of life," reads a list of web principles written by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has led the effort to develop an Internet Bill of Rights with the help of Berners-Lee and progressive tech think-tanks. "As our lives and the U.S. economy are more tied to the internet, it is essential to provide Americans with basic protections online."
Contributing to the growth of alternative web platforms that enhance rather than invade privacy and restore individual agency on the internet, Berners-Lee in September announced the launch of Solid, "an open-source project to restore the power and agency of individuals on the web."
"Today, I believe we've reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible—and necessary," Berners-Lee wrote in a Medium post. "Solid is a platform, built using the existing web. It gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access select elements, and which apps you use. It allows you, your family and colleagues, to link and share data with anyone. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time."