Tim Berners-Lee

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, now the CTO of Inrupt, speaks at Web Summit 2022 in Lisbon on November 4, 2022.

(Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

Tim Berners-Lee Wants to Enable Internet Users to Own Their Personal Data

"You need to get back to a situation where you have autonomy, you have control of all your data," says the inventor of the World Wide Web.

The creator of the World Wide Web is on a mission to reinvent it and protect personal data from Big Tech.

"I think the public has been concerned about privacy--the fact that these platforms have a huge amount of data, and they abuse it," Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the concept of the web in 1989, toldCNN on Friday. "But I think what they're missing sometimes is the lack of empowerment. You need to get back to a situation where you have autonomy, you have control of all your data."

As the news outlet reported:

Through their startup Inrupt, Berners-Lee and CEO John Brucehave created the "Solid Pod"--or Personal Online Data Store. It allows people to keep their data in one central place and control which people and applications can access it, rather than having it stored by apps or sites all over the web.

Users can get a pod from a handful of providers, hosted by web services such as Amazon, or run their own server, if they have they the technical know-how. The main attraction to self-hosting is control and privacy, says Berners-Lee.

Thirty-three years after he invented the web, Berners-Lee--a longtime advocate of giving people power over their personal data online--believes that tech giants currently "control the world and manipulate people by providing information."

In an interview with Euronews Next at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon last month, Berners-Lee said that "some people thought that tech people would save the world then. Now, we're in a situation where there are a lot of things wrong with the web."

He has proposed "a mid-course correction to take it back," which he calls Web3.0.

The earliest iteration of the internet already existed in the 1970s, but few people knew how to access it. Everything changed when Berners-Lee, then a consultant at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), wrote the code for a web server that allows browsers to view hypertext documents. CERN put the software for the World Wide Web into the public domain in 1993.

As Euronews Next explained:

We then saw the emergence of the first stage of the internet, Web1.0. Despite it being available to everyone, it was a read-only type of web and only the few who knew the ins and outs of coding could publish anything.
This led to the development of Web2.0, which now allows us to interact more with the web and become creators so we can publish what we like under big platforms such as Google, Facebook, and so on.

But it does not come for free. In return, many of these companies can take our data which can be used for targeted advertising.

Berners-Lee's "solution to the dysfunctions of Web2.0 is the third layer of protocols, giving a person the ability to log into something with their own personal ID," the news outlet reported.

While working in his lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Berners-Lee came up with the "Solid Pod" idea and launched Inrupt in 2017. The company reportedly raised $30 million last December, which Berners-Lee says will help bring the project to fruition.

"Berners-Lee's platform can be accessed from your browser," Euronews Next noted. "But it is not an app; he calls it a 'pod,' where you can store your private data and access it very easily. In simpler terms, it can be thought of as your key or a digital ID that is kept secure."

"He said this is his vision for Web3.0, emphasizing that it is not Web3 which uses the Ethereum blockchain system and promises to be decentralized," the news outlet added. "Many cryptocurrency and metaverse companies wave the word Web3 around as the future of the internet. But Inrupt disagrees."

Bruce, the co-founder and CEO of Inrupt, said that "we're talking Web3.0 which is the real thing... not a marketing hijack if you like."

"Tim explained to me over dinner one night that the web as it's rolling out isn't the web we imagined," Bruce continued. "But we could get it to a place as long as we bumped it in the right way."

According to CNN, Inrupt's platform is being tested by the United Kingdom's National Health Service and by the government of Flanders, the Flemish-speaking northern region of Belgium. The latter intends to use pods to provide social services while allowing people to choose how to share their personal data. Berners-Lee said Flanders' 6.5 million citizens will be able to use the technology by the end of 2022.

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