Tim Berners-Lee just won the most prestigious prize in computer science, the AM Turing Award, given each year by the Association for Computing Machinery. Berners-Lee, of course, invented the world wide web, the technology that enables you to read this article in your web browser.
Berners-Lee isn’t particularly pleased with the way things have gone with his creation. He has previously and loudly pointed out the problems with the modern web, and in a number of interviews published today, he took the opportunity to underline his disappointment. Here’s what the web’s inventor thinks is wrong with the web today:
Advertising’s pernicious effect on the news. The web is cleaving into the haves and have-nots of news readership. Wealthy readers will pay to opt out of advertising; less privileged readers will have to stick with news that’s ad-supported, Berners-Lee told The Guardian: “Those who can afford it will have a better online experience than those who can’t will have. They’ll be able to afford real news; those who can’t afford it will put up with the ads and they won’t have the same quality of life.”
Social networks are ignoring their responsibility to the truth. Social networks absorb their users’ personal data, but wind up “disempowering” those same users by isolating them from the wider web, Berners-Lee told MIT Technology Review. “The social networks should be thinking about how they can tweak their systems to make truth more likely to propagate, and fake news likely to fade out,” he told CNN.
Online privacy is a “human right” that’s being trampled. Government surveillance and corporate monetization of personal data threaten web users’ right to privacy: “People in the same family who live in different cities need to be able to communicate privately without it being intercepted. Really, it is a human right. You can’t mess with human rights like that without massive unexpected and very disastrous consequences,” he told Wired UK.
What’s Berners-Lee doing about all these problems? He’s working on a project called Solid that will grant users control over their personal data. This information will be separated from the applications that use it, allowing users to reuse their data across different applications, avoiding “lock-in” that would grant advantages to platforms who have massed the most user data. It’s a tricky problem to solve, so the $1 million in prize money that comes with the Turing award—money provided by Google—will surely come in handy.