Tim Berners-Lee lays out plan for a better web, and needs your help

The web's inventor is recruiting businesses, governments and citizens to commit to upholding his "contract for the web."

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is encouraging people to take an active role in the future of the web.

Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images

Sir Tim Berners-Lee laid out a global plan and call for action on Monday designed to protect the future of the web and prevent humankind from descending into a digital dystopia. The plan was drawn up together with governments, businesses and citizens over the course of the past year, after father of the web Berners-Lee first announced it at Web Summit in Lisbon in 2018.

The aim of the "Contract for the Web" is to prevent the growth of the digital divide and tame the worst aspects of the web so as to strengthen and protect it for generations to come. Just as writing the contract has been an open-source process with all of the web's stakeholders feeding into it, it is designed to be upheld in equal part by companies, politicians and everyday internet users around the world.

"The power of the web to transform people's lives, enrich society and reduce inequality is one of the defining opportunities of our time," said Berners-Lee in a statement. "But if we don't act now -- and act together -- to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering that potential."

The contract centers around nine key principles that broadly encompass many of the problems affecting the web, from data abuse to internet shutdowns. These are further divided into three sets of responsibilities to be assumed by governments, companies and citizens respectively. They are as follows:

For governments

  • Ensuring everyone can connect to the web
  • Keeping the internet available to everyone all of the time
  • Respecting and protecting people's rights to online privacy and data protection

For companies

  • Making the internet affordable and accessible to everyone
  • Respecting and protecting people's privacy and personal data
  • Developing technologies that encourage the best in humanity and challenge the worst

For citizens

  • To be creators and collaborators of the web
  • Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity
  • Fight for the web to remain open

It might seem like there is some repetition in these principles, but the difference lies in the way they will be upheld. Take rights to privacy and data protection, for instance: For governments to respect and protect these means setting out regulations and monitoring for abuse, as well as ensuring activity carried out in the name of fighting crime or protecting national security is proportionate. But for companies to respect and protect data rights and privacy, it could mean changing tools, features and policies built into their business models.

Other principles, such as what it means to be a creator and collaborator or develop technologies that are good for humanity are more open to interpretation and debate. But encouraging people to think about what they mean is a key part of what Berners-Lee wants. "It's up to all of us to fight for the web we want," he said.

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