Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British engineer credited with inventing the World Wide Web, has a message for us: Social networking sites, app developers, and other entities, if left unchecked, will ruin his creation—which now belongs to all of us. "The web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles," he writes in Scientific American, but "some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles." His complaints:
- Social networking sites: They are "walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web," making each site "a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it."
- Smartphone apps: "It is better to build a Web app that will also run on smartphone browsers," rather than a "closed" smartphone app, he writes, adding that he is especially wary of the iTunes store, which is not an "open marketplace."
- Threats to net neutrality: "Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals," and "cable television companies that sell Internet connectivity are considering whether to limit their Internet users to downloading only the company’s mix of entertainment."
- Governments using it for the wrong reason: "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," he warns. "If we want to track what government is doing, see what companies are doing, understand the true state of the planet, find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, not to mention easily share our photos with our friends, we the public, the scientific community and the press must make sure the Web’s principles remain intact."