World Wide Web inventor warns against websites controlling your data

By Dyenamic Solitions - Last updated: Friday, April 20, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Further to our last post about Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaking to the Guardian examining how companies and technological developments are challenging the principles of openness and universal access on which the net was built.
World Wide Web inventor warns against websites controlling your dataBerners-Lee has been an outspoken defender of the “open internet”, warning in 2010 that web freedom was under threat from the rise of social network “silos” such as Facebook, “closed world” apps such as those released by Apple, and governments’ attempts to monitor people’s online behaviour.

He said he remained concerned about the creation of “strong monopolies” but believed it was unlikely that internet giants such as Facebook and Google would enjoy their dominance indefinitely.

“The battle lines are being drawn and things are in a huge state of flux, so it’s very difficult to tell, when you look at the world now, what it’s going to look like in a few months’ time.”

He said that throughout the history of the internet, people had been concerned about the emergence of apparently dominant giants, but they were vulnerable to smaller companies that could innovate more effectively.

In a coded reference to predictions that Facebook could in soon become, in effect, for most people, the internet, he recalled a “wise” colleague who pointed out more than 20 years ago: “It’s amazing how quickly people on the internet can pick something up, but it’s also amazing how quickly they can drop it.”

Acknowledging growing concerns about online privacy, he said computer users received significant benefits from the vast amount of data that big web companies accumulate about them, but that increasingly they would seek to apply limits to how the data could be used, as well as demanding access to the data themselves.

Although Google now allows users to obtain all the data it holds about them and Facebook provides a similar, slower service, individual users were not yet being allowed to exploit all the information relating to them to make their lives easier.

Armed with the information that social networks and other web giants hold about us, he said, computers will be able to “help me run my life, to guess what I need next, to guess what I should read in the morning, because it will know not only what’s happening out there but also what I’ve read already, and also what my mood is, and who I’m meeting later on”.

Berners-Lee said big web companies would come under more pressure to make personal data more available, and that users might insist that the information was not held by the companies themselves.

“Perhaps what you’d want in the future is to have this piece of cloud storage and to say to somebody like … Google: ‘Look, don’t store it on your site, store it here. I will control who gets access to it.’ That would turn the tables and leave me in control of my data.”

He was worried by the rise of so-called “native apps” such as those produced for the iPhone and iPad, because they were not searchable. “Every time somebody puts a magazine on a phone now and doesn’t put it on to a web app [a form of open software], we lose a whole lot of information to the general public discourse – I can’t link to it, so I can’t tweet it, I can’t discuss it, I can’t like it, I can’t hate it.”

But he said the rapid improvement of web apps, and their ability to offer functionality and slickness previously only available from Apple or Android apps, would return more information to the open internet.

In a clear dig at Apple’s highly restrictive ecosystem, he said: “I should be able to pick which applications I use for managing my life, I should be able to pick which content I look at, and I should be able to pick which device I use, which company I use for supplying my internet, and I’d like those to be independent choices.”

Berners-Lee, who was speaking at the World Wide Web Conference in Lyon on Wednesday, also warned people against assuming that major websites and social networks would be around for ever.

“I think we need to be more conscious that places that seem very secure may in the future disappear. The long-time persistence of all this data … is an issue for all of us if we think that maybe our grandchildren, depending on which website we use, may or may not be able to see our photos.”

The interview was at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tim-berners-lee-monitoring-internet

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