Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has officially launched the Contract for the Web, a set of principles designed to “fix” the internet and prevent us from sliding into a “digital dystopia,” The Guardian reports. The contract lists nine core principles for governments, companies, and individuals to adhere to, including responsibilities to provide affordable, reliable internet access and to respect civil discourse and human dignity.
At launch, the initiative has received the backing of over 150 organizations, including tech companies such as Microsoft, Google, DuckDuckGo, and Facebook, and nonprofit groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Conspicuously absent from the list of companies are Amazon and Twitter. Twitter’s increasing role in political discourse was recently brought into sharp focus after it chose to ban political ads on its platform, citing the “challenges to civic discourse” that they create.
The contract’s launch comes as tech companies such as Facebook and Google have faced mounting pressure around both the amount of user data they collect, and the ways in which they collect it. The Contract for the Web includes principles designed to prevent this, including a requirement for companies to respect people’s privacy and personal data. If companies do not show that they are working to support these aims they risk being removed from the list of the project’s endorsers.
It’s not that we need a 10-year plan for the web, we need to turn the web around now,” Berners-Lee told The Guardian. The Contract, which includes 72 clauses alongside its nine principles, offers a shared vision for the web that Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation wants to see built, as well as a roadmap for action. Finally, it also provides a tool to try and hold companies and governments to account.
The governments of Germany, France, and Ghana have also signed up to the Contract’s founding principles. The Contract calls on governments to ensure everyone can connect to the internet, and to keep the internet available all of the time. This latter point feels especially timely in light of the Iranian government’s recent decision to shut down the internet in an attempt to prevent protests from spreading.
“The forces taking the web in the wrong direction have always been very strong,” Berners-Lee told The Guardian, noting that it will be vital for citizens to hold governments and companies to account if the situation is to improve.