Sir Tim Berners-Lee slams internet's evolution and risks it poses to privacy

Sir Tim is frustrated with pernicious ads and privacy violations

Josie Co
Business Editor
Wednesday 05 April 2017 08:23
Sir Tim also launched criticism at the way in which the internet is used for so-called “clickbait” journalism.
Sir Tim also launched criticism at the way in which the internet is used for so-called “clickbait” journalism.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, has given a series of interviews in which he has criticised how the internet has developed, condemned how advertising has evolved and warned of the risks that global connectivity poses to users’ privacy.

In an interview with The Guardian, Sir Tim said that the Trump administration’s decision to allow internet service providers to sign away their customers’ privacy and sell users’ browsing habits is “disgusting” and “appalling”.

The problem with the internet, he said, is that it can be “ridiculously revealing”.

“You have the right to go to a doctor in privacy where it’s just between you and the doctor. And similarly, you have to be able to go to the web.”

He also launched criticism at the way in which the internet is used for so-called “clickbaitjournalism.

“Clickbait, which is written in such a seductive way that it’s almost impossible not to click on it, along with pop-up advertising, are both pushing people very, very hard so that they’re liable to lash back and just deliberately pay for anything that won’t have ads, basically,” he said.

In a separate interview, he told Wired UK that online privacy should be a human right but is being “trampled on”.

The problem with the internet, Sir Tim said, is that it can be “ridiculously revealing”

“You can’t mess with human rights like that without massive unexpected and very disastrous consequences,” he was quoted as saying.

Speaking to MIT Technology Review, Sir Tim said that the internet’s “social networks should be thinking about how they can tweak their systems to make truth more likely to propagate, and fake news likely to fade out”.

Sir Tim, a Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Oxford, was this week awarded the Association for Computing Machinery’s Turing Award, which is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Computing and carries prize money of $1m.

He is credited with creating the world wide web in 1989 while working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and ACM said that it was this week honouring him for because of the internet’s “contribution of lasting and major technical importance to the computing community, due to its simplicity, elegance, and extensibility”.

“It is hard to imagine the world before Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention,” said ACM President Vicki Hanson. “In many ways, the colossal impact of the World Wide Web is obvious. Many people, however, may not fully appreciate the underlying technical contributions that make the Web possible.”

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