Tim Berners-Lee unveils 'contract' to protect and strengthen the web

Facebook and Google are among the 60 backers of a vision to make the web a better experience for future generations.

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
3 min read
Sir Tim Berners-Lee Is Awarded Freedom Of The City Of London

Tim Berners-Lee hopes people from around the world will sign the Contract

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Tim Berners-Lee , the creator of the World Wide Web, outlined his vision for bringing the whole world online and protecting the freedom of internet users at the Web Summit in Lisbon on Monday.

Through his organization the Web Foundation, Berners-Lee unveiled the creation of a "Contract for the Web" that he hopes governments, companies and citizens will contribute and sign on to in order to protect and enhance the future of his creation.

The web turns 30 years next year, and by the middle of 2019 more than half of the world's population will be online. Berners-Lee, who brought the web to life as an open platform while a young physicist at CERN, has been dismayed at the way in which hate speech has proliferated, and equally concerned about censorship and government shutdowns of the internet.

His vision now is for 100 percent of the global population to enjoy the benefits of the web without attacks on internet freedoms -- and for the whole world to help make that happen. The contract he put forward on Monday is a framework for doing that, and is designed to be a serious commitment by the citizens, governments and companies that sign up to it.

"The contract is a deal," Berners-Lee told CNET in an interview in Lisbon. "[It] to a certain extent paints a picture of a world which is better than this one. It says we can do better than what we have now."

In it, he calls on governments to commit to making sure the web is fully accessible to all their citizens at all times, while respecting their right to privacy. He also wants to ensure that tech companies play their part in upholding these rights, and innovate in ways that bring out the best in humanity. He imagines a system of accountability in which everyone has a tangible role to play, and therefore a voice in 

"Each party is going to have to commit to solidifying and living by some values, tweaking the way they work and increasing their trustability and the extent to which they trust other people," he said. "We're not expecting anyone to do it out of altruism. We're expecting them to do it out of collaboration."

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The same spirit of collaboration will be used to shape and negotiate the contract as a document using the guiding principles the Web Foundation has laid out. Berners-Lee envisages working groups and discussions that will allow people across the whole spectrum of internet users to have a say on subjects from openness and accessibility to anonymity and hate speech.

"It's all about everybody talking together," he said. The contract should be finalized and ready to sign by May 2019.

Facebook , Google and the French government are three of around 60 early backers of the contract -- a list that includes tech companies, political figures, and non-governmental and digital rights organizations.

But Berners-Lee also sees a crucial role for citizens in building the future of the web. He wants all of us to be creators and collaborators, build strong communities in which everyone feels safe and welcome our part in fighting for the web to remain open and globally available.

When we put the question to Berners-Lee as to who else he would like to see join the list of signatories for the contract, he didn't play favorites. "Everybody, everybody," he answered.

"It is an interesting list, not only because it's got some big companies, but it's also got some cool little groups of women in developing countries -- that is key, that is the richness of it," he said. "It's got people coming from all walks of life, living in all kinds of different circumstances joining in. If we're going to decide on the way we all together work towards having a web that has the right values, we don't want it to be a white guy's contract, we want it to be a contract with everybody."