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The Internet’s Response to the Coronavirus Could be Better, Says World Wide Web Creator

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Inrupt Co-Founder Tim Berners-Lee in September 2014 by the Southbank Centre used with permission

May 27, 2020 — The internet could be better serving world peoples affected by the coronavirus pandemic, said Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web, in a webinar Wednesday.

The webinar was hosted by the Wall Street Journal's Future of Everything Festival, which brings together top business leaders from various industries for discussions of current events.

Two decades after creating the  Web, Berners-Lee co-founded Inrupt, an organization that aims to decentralize the web and prioritize individual privacy.

When he launched the Web, Berners-Lee said, the internet was a more hopeful place.

“The feeling of empowerment was huge,” he said. “…When lots of people started adding their little bits, they realized they were part of this huge value that was being generated.”

However, internet industries have become oligarchic, he said, and there are artificial barriers that prohibit the private sharing of media with anyone one desires.

“You should be able to share anything with anyone, and the fact that you can't share anything with anyone reduces the value,” he said.

Inrupt co-founder John Bruce agreed. “We've all got complacent,” he said. “Our expectations of what the web can do for us are pretty limited.”

In the age of coronavirus, the internet is underperforming its potential to effectively serve world populations, Bruce added.

“We could have been doing a way better job if the web had been built differently,” he said.

Both Bruce and Berners-Lee claimed that tech companies like Facebook and Google collect personal information not merely for ease of use but also to rope consumers in. The practice limits infrastructure development to very few companies, they argued, which in turn stifles real innovation.

Big tech companies have faced broad criticism for their data collection practices and their implications for personal privacy. Still, usership would indicate that the majority of consumers value convenience over privacy.

Nonetheless, the Inrupt founders emphasized their commitment to changing the landscape of the internet and getting companies to recommit to respecting the privacy of their users, something Berners-Lee said “a lot of people may find very compelling.”

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