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The Internet is Broken

The internet is broken.

On March 12, 2019, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the Word Wide Web, commemorated its 30th birthday with a blog post that focused largely on what is wrong with it.

While working at the European scientific research center CERN in 1989, Sir Tim submitted a paper entitled “Information Management: A Proposal,” (which his boss returned to him with a note: “Vague but exciting”.)  Since then, the web and the internet it’s built on have come a long way.  What started as a relatively simple platform to post and link to information has become central to most of our lives.

There’s no doubt — at 30 years old the World Wide Web has a lot to celebrate.

It’s the place we go for everything from healthcare, to news, to shopping. We can use it to communicate, pontificate, or find a date.  Whether you’re selling, buying, blogging, tweeting, or just browsing, the World Wide Web has made many tasks in life much easier.

But as Sir Tim points out, the web’s ease of use is both a strength and a weakness.

As much as it provides otherwise marginalized groups with a place to speak freely, it also provides a conduit for hate speech and bullying. As easy as the web makes it to publish news, videos, and pictures, it provides no way of vetting their accuracy or source—it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction. With all the good this ingenious invention provides us, it also enables a worldwide unregulated platform for scammers and criminals to do harm.

Despite his warnings about the current state of the web, Sir Tim is hopeful for its future, stating that “given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

So, how can we build a better web?  How can we balance the benefits of freedom with the risks of promoting a virtual wild wild west?

There’s no easy answer, but Sir Tim’s blog post has inspired some interesting ideas. Most proposals to build a better web center around three common goals:

  • Reduce the spread of fake content (news, photos, and videos).
  • Stop the use of the web as a platform for cyberbullying.
  • Protect the web from scammers, hackers, and those with criminal intent.

When it comes to reducing the fake content, whether it originates from hackers or governments, AI (artificial intelligence) is far from perfect but is rapidly improving.  Companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google are already using AI to block some fake content, but as the bad actors get more sophisticated it has become an ongoing battle. Nevertheless, as AI improves there’s a good chance the amount of fake content will fade.

Ending cyberbullying is more complex because it’s hard to define.  What’s the difference between online bullying, gossiping, or just sharing an honest opinion?  The latest ideas around curbing cyberbullying include technical, educational, and legal remedies.  Several are gaining traction, whether social media hate speech filters or mobile apps that alert parents when their kid is either a victim or perpetrator.

Protecting the web from being taken over by scammers is perhaps the biggest challenge. Because most all activity on the web can be anonymous, it can be hard to deter those with ill intent from tricking users into giving up their credit cards or their identities. Even so, techies are hard at work building “data loss prevention” systems that enhance antivirus, antimalware, and firewall systems by managing what data leaves your computer in addition to what is trying to enter it.

So yes, the internet is broken but all is not lost.

In the words for Sir Tim, “The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville software development and IT support company.  Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.

 

 

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