Berners-Lee: Apple, Facebook are enemies of the web
2010 is a great time for the web. Innovation is thriving as new services and content flourish on smartphones and laptops, thanks in good part to industry leaders like Apple and Facebook.
But according to Tim Berners-Lee, – often called “ the father of the web” – the open and democratic structure of the web is threatened by sinister forces trying to redesign the web in ways that make it more closed for their own personal gain. These enemies of the web don’t just include totalitarian governments. They include industry leaders like Apple and Facebook.
As the web turns 20, Berners-Lee has written a 3,800-word article for Scientific American celebrating its achievements and documenting threats to its future. Most of his words are dedicated to the threats.
The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike—are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.
If we, the Web’s users, allow these and other trends to proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into fragmented islands. We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want. The ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.
Social network sites like Facebook, Berners-Lee says, are silos, connecting data and content only within its walled gardens. Apple’s iTunes traps people into a proprietary store. Even Google, whose search revenue is dependent on an open web, is chided for abandoning its support of Net neutrality. All lead to a fragmented web, damaging the “single, universal information space” that made it work in the first place. They can also breed monopolies, which the web was initially designed to resist.
These tech giants might dismiss these arguments as alarmist and argue that their success shows that people are responding to the way a less-open web is evolving. Their counter-arguments might be more persuasive if the Cassandra making the warnings wasn’t Tim Berners-Lee.
Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt all owe a huge debt to Berners-Lee and everything he has fought to achieve over the past two decades. They know they would be nowhere without the web as he designed it – even as they pick apart at the very principles of openness that made the web the web.