Father Of The Web Sounds Alarm On The State Of The Internet And Vows To Fix It

Laptop in front of a city with binary code fililng the sky.
When Tim Berners-Lee transformed the early internet with the invention of the World Wide Web while at CERN, it was a much different time. It started in earnest in 1989 with a memo proposing a global hypertext document system, though as he readily admits now, the web's "trajectory was impossible to imagine" at the time. Now 35 years later, Berners-Lee has posted an open letter cautioning against the "power concentration" that exists today, which he says "contradicts the decentralized spirit" that he originally envisioned.

Originally, Berners-Lee was hoping for an easier way for researchers to share information without having to send emails back and forth. The existing internet, which was in its infancy at the time and very much rudimentary compared to today, was key to his proposal. And in the early going, Berners-Lee said things were on the right track.

"Underlying its whole infrastructure was the intention to allow for collaboration, foster compassion, and generate creativity—what I term the 3 C’s. It was to be a tool to empower humanity," Berners-Lee explains. "The first decade of the web fulfilled that promise— the web was decentralized with a long-tail of content and options, it created small, more localized communities, provided individual empowerment and fostered huge value."

Two faces amid a bunch of lines and binary code, with a space-themed background.

But that was then and this is now. In his letter, Berners-Lee says that "in the past decade, instead of embodying these values, the web has instead played a part in eroding them." He warns that this has increasingly far-reaching implications as platforms become centralized and amid the current AI revolution.

His warnings are not new. Berners-Lee points to issues he raised five years ago, namely about the "web being dominated by the self-interest of several corporations that have eroded the web's values and led to breakdown and harm."

"Now, 5 years on as we arrive at the Web’s 35th Birthday, the rapid advancement of AI has exacerbated these concerns, proving that issues on the web are not isolated but rather deeply intertwined with emerging technologies," Berners-Lee says.

From his vantage point, there are two main issues in need of addresses. One is the concentration of power, which he says has segmented the web as companies put their platform hooks into users to maximize profits. He calls this an "exploitative business model" and says it's "particularly grave" with this being an election year.

The second issue, which he says compounds the first one, is the personal data market. He's talking about the mass data collection practices that permeate practically every major service, with intricate data profiles that get used for targeted ads and "ultimately control over the information people are fed."

It's a somewhat scathing open letter that points to a lack of diversity, capitalist forces, and insufficient governance. To address this, he's calling for reform on the current setup, or to even "create a new one that genuinely serves the best interests of humanity."

"Realizing this emergent movement won’t just happen—it requires support for the people leading the reform, from researchers to inventors to advocates. We must amplify and promote these positive use cases, and work to shift the collective mindset of global citizens," Berners-Lee says.

You can read the full open letter for everything else he had to say, and how he hopes to change things going forward.