Berners-Lee creates Contract for the Web

Written by Peter Walker
25/11/19

Tim Berners-Lee has launched a global plan to save the internet from the political manipulation, fake news and privacy violations which threaten to plunge the world into a “digital dystopia”.

The Contract for the Web requires endorsing governments, companies and individuals to make commitments to protect the web from abuse and ensure it benefits humanity.

The man instrumental in inventing the internet told the Guardian: “I think people’s fear of bad things happening on the internet is becoming, justifiably, greater and greater - if we leave the web as it is, there’s a very large number of things that will go wrong.

"We could end up with a digital dystopia if we don’t turn things around, it’s not that we need a 10-year plan for the web, we need to turn the web around now.”

The contract has been worked on by 80 organisations for more than a year, and outlines nine central principles – three each for governments, companies and individuals.

The document, published by Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation, has the backing of more than 150 organisations: from Microsoft, Google and Facebook to the digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Those backing the contract must show they are implementing the principles and working on solutions to the tougher problems, or face being removed from the list of endorsers.

Its principles require governments to do all they can to ensure that everyone can connect to the web and have their privacy respected, with access to whatever personal data is held on them and the right to object or withdraw from having that data processed.

Access must be affordable, with web services for people with disabilities and those who speak minority languages.

To build trust online, companies are compelled to simplify privacy settings by providing easy-to-use central control panels. Businesses are also urged to diversify their workforces, consult broad communities before and after they release new products, and assess the risk of their technology spreading misinformation.

Other principles call on individuals to create rich and relevant content to make the web a valuable place, build strong online communities where everyone feels safe and welcome, and to fight for the web, so it remains open to everyone, everywhere.

“Whether you’re a company or a government, controlling the web is a way to make huge profits, or a way of ensuring you remain in power," said Berners-Lee. "The people are arguably the most important part of this, because it’s only the people who will be motivated to hold the other two to account.”

Emily Sharpe, the director of policy at the Web Foundation, added: “The web’s power to be a force for good is under threat and people are crying out for change - we are determined to shape that debate using the framework that the contract sets out.

“Ultimately, we need a global movement for the web like we now have for the environment, so that governments and companies are far more responsive to citizens than they are today."