Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaks after receiving the first ever Millennium Technology Prize in Helsinki in 2004 / Getty Images

Net is still a bad place for women, but it can also help fight harassment

The internet is becoming a place of increasing surveillance, control and inequality, a new report from the World Wide Web Foundation has shown.

While the web has enormous power to make people more equal, says the report backed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it is becoming increasingly possible that it will be used instead to “further concentrate economic and political power in the hands of the few”, says the report.

Because of increasingly common surveillance and censorship, the equalising power of the internet is reducing, said Sir Tim. It can only bring about social change "if we hardwire the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, affordable access and net neutrality into the rules of the game", he said when launching the report.

The countries with weak or non-existent safeguards for privacy went up from 63% to 83%, the report said.

The 2014-2015 edition of the Web Foundation’s annual Web Index was launched by Sir Tim Berners-Lee this afternoon, where he said that the Internet should be recognised as a human right. But the report says that access is still far from universal.

While internet use has soared in high income countries — from 45% to 78%  — it has stayed below 10% in poorer ones. Internet costs over 80 times more in those poorer countries.

Even among countries with high internet access, women are often excluded from the web, the report says. 16% fewer women than men use the internet in the developing world, and many are subjected to stalking and online abuse online.

But many are using the web to fight for women’s rights — in over 60% of countries, women are using the internet to claim and exercise their rights to a moderate and extensive degree. The report highlights the case of an Egyptian NGO called Shoft Taharosh, which in March 2014 posted footage of a woman being harassed on a Cairo University campus and the outcry led to the university implementing one of the first sexual harassment policies in the region.