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Privacy The Internet Social Networks The Media

Tim Berners-Lee Warns About the Web's Three Biggest Threats (webfoundation.org) 91

Sunday was the 28th anniversary of the day that 33-year-old Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web -- and the father of the web published a new letter today about "how the web has evolved, and what we must do to ensure it fulfills his vision of an equalizing platform that benefits all of humanity."

It's been an ongoing battle to maintain the web's openness, but in addition, Berners-Lee lists the following issues: 1) We've lost control of our personal data. 2) It's too easy for misinformation to spread on the web. 3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding. Tim Berners-Lee writes:
We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology like personal "data pods" if needed and exploring alternative revenue models like subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government over-reach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is "true" or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the "internet blind spot" in the regulation of political campaigning.
Berners-Lee says his team at the Web Foundation "will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five year strategy," researching policy solutions and building progress-driving coalitions, as well as maintaining their massive list of digital rights organizations. "I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today... and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want -- for everyone." Inspired by the letter, very-long-time Slashdot reader Martin S. asks, does the web need improvements? And if so, "I'm wondering what Slashdotters would consider to be a solution?"
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Tim Berners-Lee Warns About the Web's Three Biggest Threats

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  • by Larsen E Whipsnade ( 4686581 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @12:54AM (#54026801)
    Free exchange or censorship. Pick one. And besides, censorship never fixed the problem of fake news. The only solution to fake news is for readers not to be gullible.

    Want a second opinion? Here's one: HTTP and HTML are getting long in the tooth, and Javascript is bloat. Maybe it's time to come up with a new stack? Something with better controls for deep linking and embedding, and better support for distributed/cached store-and-forward, and mechanisms so Web 2.0 doesn't have to be such a bolt-on kluge. Maybe a decentralized reputation system so we can choose our own echo chambers more readily.

    I'm disappointed that after all these years Tim speaks mainly in slogans and generalities, and still can't avoid contradicting himself. Let's show him how it's done by talking brass tacks.
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @01:52AM (#54026993) Homepage

      I don't mind HTTP and HTML, they work reasonably well. The problem is all the ads injected/embedded from other sites than the source site.

      What really worries me is that today some media outlets instead develops their own apps for reading their content where they claim that it will be a faster and better experience. I don't trust them and I see a risk with installation of apps because then the app has more ability to do suspect stuff on my device than what's normally possible with HTML and some JavaScript.

      • One objection I have is they're not well suited to binary data. This content-encoding stuff seems klugey and inefficient. But that's not a deal breaker.

        Deep linking and embedding is what makes all sorts of problems possible. Cross site scripting, linked images that bog down page loads, tracker pixels and dead links.

        Suppose cross site embedding and scripting were disallowed? Just don't support them in the browser - or at least not without a click to bring up an image. The infrastructure for ads would have to
      • by grumbel ( 592662 ) <grumbel+slashdot@gmail.com> on Monday March 13, 2017 @05:29AM (#54027497) Homepage

        The big issue I have with HTML is that it's useless for publishing larger content, like books or even just multi-page articles. Thanks to hyper links it is of course possible to add some Next/Prev buttons to a webpage to represent such content, but those links are just hacks, not markup. eReader have developed their own formats (.ePub, .mobi, iBook, etc.) for accomplishing this task, but while they often are little more than a .zip with .html files, none of them are proper part of the Web and your regular web browser won't read them.

        HTML had <link rel="next/prev"...> markup going back to HTML2.0, but it was never properly supported by any browser or developed into something that would be powerful enough to replace .ePub and Co. This to me is one of the big failures of the Web that nobody really talks about. The Web should be the place where you publish content, it should be the replacement of paper, but instead people are forced to use .ePub or .PDF for that task, as plain old HTML isn't doing the job.

        The other elephant in the room are of course the hyper links. The Web still lacks any kind of content-addressability, it's all location based, thus when server go down or it's URL layout changes, all your hyperlinks break. Basic tasks like linking to a specific paragraph from another article are also not possible with HTML. Project Xanadu [wikipedia.org] never got much traction, but it's really time for the Web to learn a thing or two from what they tried to accomplish back then.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          The big issue I have with HTML is that it's useless for publishing larger content, like books or even just multi-page articles.

          Inability to publish multi-page articles sounds like a good thing.

          Fair point about books, but it seems like a few simple new tags is all that would be required, or even just a "book mode" in the browser that formats content into pages. I know, publishers want to control the layout, but screw those guys. The browser is supposed to display content the way I want it to be displayed.

        • The markup you are looking for is H1/H2/H3/...

          HTML has had those since the very start. The current crop of web browsers stink at how they display it: They could so very easily display a TOC based on the headings, and provide controls for navigating sections. They don't, but that's not the markup language's fault.


        • The big issue I have with HTML is that it's useless for publishing larger content, like books or even just multi-page articles.

          TeXinfo [gnu.org]

          I know, I know, it's just too hard for regular people to use.
    • by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @02:34AM (#54027073)

      Especially that he, himself, allowed EME into the standard, when he could stop it.

    • by Kunedog ( 1033226 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @02:40AM (#54027091)

      I'm disappointed that after all these years Tim speaks mainly in slogans and generalities, and still can't avoid contradicting himself. Let's show him how it's done by talking brass tacks.

      This.

      From the summary:

      We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is "true" or not.

      That is literally what "gatekeeper" means, Tim.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        He is saying that the free market should handle it. Google and Facebook will improve their products by flagging up fake news, rather than having a regulator force them to.

        I don't think that is a very good solution. I don't claim to have the answer either. In the past TV and newspapers were the primary sources of news, and they were regulated. Many countries had requirements for impartiality and fairness, and some mechanism for settling disputes with the press. The internet is ungovernable in that sense, so

        • by Anonymous Coward

          He is saying that the free market should handle it.

          Google: "Hmm, we'll get more users on Chrome, if we drop ads for it on our frontpage (and all of our sites.)"

          Facebook: "This contradicts our viewpoints. Out it goes."

          Many countries had requirements for impartiality and fairness, and some mechanism for settling disputes with the press.

          Many countries also had laws that required compliance with police investigations without a warrant, or mandated that the state approve of your articles / story / opinion befor

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        No, I think you're assuming this process requires some person to make arbitrary decisions. That's not the case.

        What he's talking about is creating smarter algorithms that weight content based on it's veracity such that stories with little to no veracity aren't given the same or higher prominence as stories with high veracity.

        That is, given that stories have to be ranked (we can't place them at the same place on a page or you'd not be able to decipher it as they'd all be on top of it) then they should be ran

      • Small details. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @07:00AM (#54027769) Homepage

        We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem,

        Notice the plural (emphasis mine)

        while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is "true" or not.

        That is literally what "gatekeeper" means, Tim.

        There's a subtle difference :
        - Tim wants the companies (plural) spreading informations/news to do a little bit of work to help assess the reliability of facts in the links that people pass around.
        - Tim does not want a single central entity becoming the official authority on all truth (he doesn't want a central "Ministry of Truth").

        They aren't contradictory.
        But without paying attention, there's a risk that one devolves into the other.

        • Re:Small details. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @07:58AM (#54027965)

          We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem,

          Notice the plural (emphasis mine)

          - Tim wants the companies (plural) spreading informations/news to do a little bit of work to help assess the reliability of facts in the links that people pass around.
          - Tim does not want a single central entity becoming the official authority on all truth (he doesn't want a central "Ministry of Truth").

          Having plural gatekeepers does not solve the problem. "Plural" in practice means jerks like Zuckerberg, Gates, Cook, Nadella and Pichai being in control of gatekeeping. These are people who, as senior company officers, only their boards or shareholdes could remove : such actions in companies are very rare and even more rare over anything ethical, or their influence is not removable at all if they hold a massive share of the company (as in Gates' case). How is that any better than an independent single body that could be more easily changed?

          • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

            "How is that any better than an independent single body that could be more easily changed?"

            What makes you think that a single, centralized gatekeeper could be "more easily changed"? How would that system work and who would get to make the changes?

            I'm open to ideas, but trusting any single body with the mission of defining "misinformation" seems really dangerous. That's a huge amount of power and I think it would be extremely vulnerable to corruption and abuse. Imagine what it would be worth to big corpor

            • "How is that any better than an independent single body that could be more easily changed?"

              What makes you think that a single, centralized gatekeeper could be "more easily changed"?

              Anything would be more easily changed than the CEO or board membership of a company like Google or Facebook - at least for reasons related to anything ethical. Such people can only be changed by a boardroom "palace" rebellion or shareholders' vote, and neither of those would ever happen over an issue (trivial to them) like fake news. Such rebellions only ever happen if not enough money is being made, and are rare even then.

              How would that system work and who would get to make the changes?

              Something like a body appointed by the W3C. Complaints could be made to it, they'

    • The only solution to fake news is for readers not to be gullible.

      I agree but it means that there is really no solution. Some individual readers may not be gullible, but not the majority.

      A philospher said, long time ago, that if you had a billion monkeys bashing at typewriters, one of them would eventually perchance reproduce the works of Shakespeare. However, the internet has shown that this does not happen.

      OTOH, if some monkeys did produce some gems of literature, another monkey could perchance produce an index pointing where to find them among the dross. However the

      • However, the internet has shown that this does not happen.

        Only because we're not doing it right. The problem with using billions of monkeys, is that you're required to keep the monkeys isolated from one another, in order to have their typing remain random. If the monkeys are able to read one another's typing, they will form patterns together. They'll learn, invent culture (i.e. spread memes), trade typing duties for sexual favors, cheat by photocopying previously-typed pages, etc. All these things remove mu

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 13, 2017 @01:10AM (#54026863)

    Missing from his list:

    • DRM
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 13, 2017 @01:11AM (#54026873)

    #1 threat to the web: Tim Berners-Lee endorsing DRM into web standards
    It's also pretty funny that he thinks misinformation is some new problem because Trump was elected or whatever - Information on the web has always been wildly untrustworthy, it's just that the dumb shit public have been gradually brainwashed by massive corporations to accept it as some authoritative source to sell more advertising.

  • I think the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse [wikipedia.org] are much bigger threats.
    Think of all the bogus DMCA takedowns justified by 'combating illegal copyright infringement', or Bitcoin being shut down due to money laundering concerns, or laws requiring people to decrypt their devices for officials who ask them to (to ensure nothing illegal/incriminating/sexy is there).

  • Fake News is the new name for the same old problem, we used to call it yellow journalism, we saw over Eternal September and the same moral panic.

    Eternal September highlighted the tension between two contrasting trends. The Internet was built on the free exchange of ideas and information. While the natural consequence of this, increasing availability, actually lowered the overall quality of the content. Panic ensued.

    Some of us came to recognised that what was needed was to strike a balance, not choose between two stark choices. We saw was the average quality trending toward the mean, not simply going down.

    Should we panic because the average number of balls in the working population is trending toward one? No we should be looking behind the headline to identify the reality and raise the mean.

  • I used to think personal data pods would be a good idea. Then I realized, almost everything on facebook is worthless. This definitely includes my stuff that I've put there. It's things that mattered for a moment, and that's it. You can tell because people rarely go back and look through their old posts (unless Facebook prompts them).

    Twitter is even worse.
  • There are very few Gods in the Pantheon of IT. TBL is one of them and we should not only listen but remember.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      TBL has lost his godhood status. Endorsing DRM on the web was his fall from Olympus.

  • DRM, Tim... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 13, 2017 @03:53AM (#54027245)

    fair level of data control

    Unfortunately, Tim Burners-Lee has come out in favor of DRM in the HTML standard recently. As such, any "fair level of control" strikes me to essentially be "the corporation gets everything except for what they deign fit for us peons." Ultimately, that's what DRM is in practice.

    At this point, I can't help but wonder if he's being paid off somehow. Very, very few people who advocate a "free and open web" would put DRM anywhere near it, because they're aware that it's pretty much a contradiction. This only furthers the perpetuation of the copyright laws that are already grossly biased in favor of large corporations at the great expense of just about everyone else. One of those expenses is the "free and open web" itself, if they get their way.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The DRM was happening anyway, the alternative was to ignore the use of Flash/Sliverlight, bury your head in the sand and pretend the web was completely DRM free.

  • ... are not comptabile when the public is stupid, irrational and tech illiterate. The vast majority of hte people don't know what DRM is or how tech works which is why software and entertainment companies are getting away with re-engineering Windows and software generally to live in the "cloud" (aka walled garden).

    Apple, Google, Valve, and other corporations saw phone and videogame companies getting away with basically stealing the peoples right to own their own software and never have it entirely run the

  • DRM, in any way, shape or form is a direct threat to the open, and archival nature of the web.

    Seriously. Go back to any of these services that used any sort of DRM and later closed.

    Now go ahead and access their content....

    Oh wait!

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