The web can be weaponised – and we can’t count on big tech to stop it

Snap confirms it will lay off ‘just over 120’ employees- Prosyscom
March 14, 2018
Pull the plug on Facebook over hate speech, fake news- Prosyscom
March 14, 2018


Today, the world wide web turns 29. This year marks a milestone in the web’s history: for the first time, we will cross the tipping point when more than half of the world’s population will be online.

When I share this exciting news with people, I tend to get one of two concerned reactions:

  1. How do we get the other half of the world connected?
  2. Are we sure the rest of the world wants to connect to the web we have today?

The threats to the web today are real – from misinformation and questionable political advertising to a loss of control over our personal data. But I remain committed to making sure the web is a free, open, creative space – for everyone.

That vision is only possible if we get everyone online, and make sure the web works for people. I founded the Web Foundation to fight for the web’s future. Here’s where we must focus our efforts:

Close the digital divide

The divide between people who have internet access and those who do not is deepening existing inequalities, inequalities that pose a serious global threat. Unsurprisingly, you’re more likely to be offline if you are female, poor, live in a rural area or a low-income country, or some combination of the above. To be offline today is to be excluded from opportunities to learn and earn, to access valuable services, and to participate in democratic debate. If we do not invest seriously in closing this gap, the last billion will not be connected until 2042. That’s an entire generation left behind.

In 2016, the UN declared internet access a human right, on par with clean water, electricity, shelter and food. But until we make internet access affordable for all, billions will continue to be denied this basic right. The target has been set – the UN recently adopted the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s threshold for affordability: 1GB of mobile data for less than 2% of average monthly income. The reality, however, is that we’re still a long way off from reaching this target – in some countries, the cost of 1GB of mobile broadband remains more than 20% of average monthly income.

What will it take to actually achieve this goal? We must support policies and business models that expand access to the world’s poorest through public access solutions, such as community networks and public wifi initiatives. We must invest in securing reliable access for women and girls, and empowering them through digital skills training.

Make the web work for people

The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today. What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.





‘We’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, and fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions.’


‘We’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, and fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions.’ Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors. They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry’s top talent. Add to this the competitive advantage that their user data gives them and we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last.

What’s more, the fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponise the web at scale. In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data.

We’ve looked to the platforms themselves for answers. Companies are aware of the problems and are making efforts to fix them – with each change they make affecting millions of people. The responsibility – and sometimes burden – of making these decisions falls on companies that have been built to maximise profit more than to maximise social good. A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions.

Bring more voices to the debate on the web’s future

The future of the web isn’t just about those of us who are online today, but also those yet to connect. Today’s powerful digital economy calls for strong standards that balance the interests of both companies and online citizens. This means thinking about how we align the incentives of the tech sector with those of users and society at large, and consulting a diverse cross section of society in the process.

قالب وردپرس

Skype
%d bloggers like this: