Tim Berners-Lee lists his 3 biggest fears for the future of the web: Fake news, privacy, political advertising

Saturady, March 11, 2017 marked “28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the worldwide web,” Tim Berners-Lee writes for The Guardian. “I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool that serves all of humanity.”

1. We’ve lost control of our personal data: Even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, such as sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.

MacDailyNews Take: Those who value their privacy use Apple products and steer clear of products from Google and Facebook.

2. It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web: Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And they choose what to show us based on algorithms that learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on – meaning that misinformation, or fake news, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases, can spread like wildfire.

MacDailyNews Take: It’s painfully easy to identify those who primarily get their “news” from Facebook.

3. Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding: Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups.

MacDailyNews Take: When it comes to free speech we always prefer to err on the side of free.

“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 such as personal ‘data pods’ if needed and exploring alternative revenue models such as subscriptions and micropayments,” Berners-Lee writes. “We must fight against government overreach 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.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The best way to consume “news” is to cast a wide net.

As always, readers of “news” need to consider the sources and interpret what they are are being told accordingly. The more disparate sources you can find, the better. And we don’t mean different newspaper, network, website brands that are all owned by the same conglomerate. Determining the actual ownership of your “news” sources is an investment that requires a bit of time, but it is very enlightening. — MacDailyNews Take, June 17, 2015

Tim Berners-Lee: You should own your personal data, not Google, Facebook, Amazon, and advertisers – October 8, 2014
The Web at 25: Created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Steve Jobs’ NeXTcube – March 11, 2014
The Web, Apple, Steve Jobs’ NeXT and the evolution of search – August 4, 2011
World Wide Web creator (and Apple Mac user) Berners-Lee fears for Web’s future – November 3, 2006
Apple Mac OS X forerunner used to create World Wide Web – September 29, 2004
Inventor of World Wide Web uses Apple PowerBook, Mac OS X, and Safari browser – September 23, 2003


  1. All of these scumbag companies have ridden on the back of his and his team’s work. Just because we *can* engage in unethical behavior doesn’t mean we should or have a free pass to. I hope his observations echo around the world, no one but us will stand up for us.

  2. Fake news has infiltrated every corner of our society, not just the internet. CNN, FOX, MSNBC, they are now reporting their agendas. They want to filter the news for us, so we think the way they WANT us to think.

    Even The Onion was purchased by Hillary’s team, so they can take the art away and replace it with INFLUENCE. Funny enough, I saw an Onion article appear in the Apple News Feed. Um, Tim, if you want to get rid of fake news, start with the Onion, it advertises itself as fake. And by the way Tim, if you can’t filter the DNC propaganda that is now The Onion, you SUCK at filtering fake news.

    1. So you point to a niche comic’s self produced and written one-hour comical take on the news as validation for what you claim in your comment? Weak, very weak.

      Why is it you and many others seem to think posting a link to something that supports their claim makes it valid/true/credible?

      1. This niche comic references professional journalists/investigators’ articles from Rolling Stone and Intercept. I gave the link to his video only because it is a convenient way to become aware of the issues raised.

  3. But it’s also easy, in this supercharged (like never before) partisan time to end up in an echo chamber and not even realize it. It often feels like there are these rather sinister forces out there that keep wanting to drive a wedge between good Americans who are really not that far apart from each other in what they want for the country. Anyway, it’s not so simple to not get swayed or tricked into your own progressive or conservative echo chamber and fall prey to fake news.

    The POTUS is now starting to shut out boring, mainstream news orgs like CNN at Press Conferences as if they were “fake” news. Spicer is now mostly taking questions from the more extreme, alt right “news” outlets. Even Fox is looking kind of moderate when compared to the Alt Right.

    Geez, I was not a fan of George W. Bush at all, but even he sounds worried and has suggested that the current POTUS just live with the pain of the 4th Estate.

    I do hope that Apple’s iCloud proves less hackable and more private than others. I would like that very much.

    But I share all 3 of the writer’s concerns too.

    1. Right. The issue isn’t news from a particular viewpoint. That is unavoidable. One hopes that the writer will make his biases obvious enough to allow filtering out the viewpoints, leaving the facts behind.

      The issue is when there simply are no facts behind the viewpoints, when it is possible to repeat a lie so many times so quickly that it becomes indistinguishable from truth. It is already nearly impossible to trace a story on the internet back through the tangle of paraphrases and retweets to find the original witness… or even determine that there is one.

      As MDN says, almost the only way to do avoid bias is to read news from widely differing viewpoints. I learned when I was getting a degree in theology that the chances are that if John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas agree on something, that something is presumptively a part of orthodox Christianity. If National Review and the Atlantic Monthly agree that something happened (even though they differ about its interpretation), it probably did happen.

      What Tim Berners-Lee asks is “What if evolving technology makes that impossible?”

      What if your newsreader software learns your preferences and automatically filters out any viewpoint other than your own, so that you never hear another side of the story?
      What if social media makes it, not just possible, but easy to spread a complete fabrication so fast that the truth never has a chance to catch up?
      What if a candidate can target voters with individualized advertising, so that he can make incompatible promises to different constituencies without anyone knowing?
      What if virtual communities linked through social media allow people to live side by side without sharing common values or even common facts?
      What if the existence of editing software makes us distrust all audible and visual evidence?

      As the King of Siam observed, “It is a puzzlement.”

      1. Wow, excellent analysis and commentary! Fascinating about the candidate who could promise both sides of an issue to different constituents. And even a Rodgers and Hammerstein reference to boot! Ha! Nicely put, Tx.

        Recently, there was an “article” about a “study” that showed Android phones were less likely to require repairs than iPhones. Did anyone see that? It was super weird because I could never find the actual study and the data. I drilled down through 4 different articles that kept citing each other and then finally there was a reference in the comments section of one that you had to cough up your email address to download the actual study, but I never even found that link.

        I’m surprised that MDM didn’t highlight the article, even if just expose it. MDM?…

        Anyway, I was pretty mystified because I don’t believe that either Apple or any of the Android hardware manufacturers release any failure or repair rate data. I’d love for them all to, but don’t believe they are required by law to do so.

        So how did this “study” come to be?

        And yet, various “news” sources were reporting it. And none of the news sources were particularly out there. So it was a weird experience that I might have completely accepted if I wasn’t so sure that no one had access to this failure rate data other than the manufacturers themselves.

        Yeah, it’s a brave new world now, for sure. A puzzlement indeed!

  4. One of the easiest ways to spot disinformation is to look at stories that insist on simplistic thinking with only one measurement of success.

    Single-metric solutions to complicated real world problems are not solutions at all.

    Other interesting trends:

    If the story is narrated by a talking head that presents no independent analysis to help prove his point, then there is no point for debate. No evidence, no case. I’m looking right at you, botty.

    Another interesting snake oil tactic in popular use today is to arbitrarily dismiss sources. Anyone who insists on being the final arbiter on what is valid or acceptable data is not interested in facts, he is only interested on furthering his biased opinion and will dismiss all inconvenient data to the contrary.

    What is fascinating is how ignorance is now a point of pride by so many people. Knowing long term effects and attempting to do the most good for the most people is not the goal, it is short term profits and political points that matter. For every bobblehead that demands MAGA, there are 10 opinions on what greatness is and zero plans on how to fund it.

        1. Arguing with Botvinnik is like playing chess with a pigeon. It’ll just knock over all the pieces, shit on the board, and strut about like it’s won anyway.

      1. Snopes for the win, because they show their research. that was easy.

        Nobody believes anything botvinnik writes because he/she/it is a paranoid deranged conspiracy theorist with zero credibility on any matter.

  5. MDN: “Those who value their privacy use Apple products and steer clear of products from Google.”

    MDN sure sounds serious about that! Surely that means they finally stopped including the http://www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js code on all their web pages that enables spying on every user of the site. (Checks) Nope, they are still using Google’s spying software to watch us. So if MDN stands by it statement AND keeps using this Google spy-on-users product: then you do not value privacy of your users? Alright.

    1. + infinity

      MDN’s hypocrisy at its fullest. Many/most of the ads on MDN are Google ads, and there are multiple trackers including Google Analytics. Something stinks here. Do you trust people who demand you do as they say, not as they do?

  6. Critical thinking is out of vogue these days. What I see all around me is the outright dismissal of everything that one does not agree with as Fake News.

    Have we lost the ability to separate facts from opinions? Every single media outlet has biases. Every single journalist has biases. It is possible to read a biased article and separate the facts from the biased conclusions and commentary. Simply dismissing the entire article because it contains biased opinions does no good at all.

    We need to find the facts and agree that they are true. Then we can intelligently debate the merits of each conclusion that has been drawn based on these facts.

    Conclusions that have been drawn from “alternative facts” a.k.a. lies are, by definition, useless.

        1. botvinnik doesn’t realize that when he paddles through Trump’s swamp off the far end of sanity, fully covered in Breibart shit propaganda & misinformation, there is nobody else to the right of him. Thus he thinks everyone is a liberal, as if liberty was a bad thing.

          Then he calls you a globalist if you have common decency and treat others with respect regardless of religion, race, creed, color, etc.

          I wish MDN would get a clue and moderate their forums and remove trolls like botvinnik who do nothing to further the discourse.

            1. I am beginning to believe that botvinnik is a paid propagandist affiliated with MDN. No other forum would allow such assholes to pollute their sites.

            2. I don’t really get it either, Mike. Even if I shared his belief system, I would be completely embarrassed and ashamed of his juvenile and vile way of presenting it.

              If I owned MDM, I would just spend a little time each week blocking users (maybe try a one month ban?) who were unable to present their ideas with some semblance of civility. It takes away from this otherwise unique and helpful news portal.

  7. “fair level of data control” Who determines what is fair?
    Should it be some governnment office. Some people want that.

    Fact Checkers; who fact checks the fact checkers?

    1. Who checks the fact checkers? You do.

      First of all, let us ask what fact checkers can or cannot do. They cannot (or should not) be evaluating opinions, because that process would be entirely subjective. They should restrict themselves to facts, to assertions of truth about some objectively verifiable matter.

      Fake news is not just an opinion someone disagrees with; it is a statement of fact that has no evidence to support it. If accidental, it is a mistake of fact. If deliberate, it is a lie.

      Sadly, post-modern society has been permeated with the notion that facts are not objective, not something that a person can be wrong about. If “my truth” is logically inconsistent with “your truth,” it is impolite to insist that your truth is better than mine.

      In this bizarro universe where there are no facts apart from opinions, scientists can assert theories, but my opinion as an ordinary guy is equally valid. It would be elitist to argue that a scientist’s opinion about science or technology is worth more than anyone else’s. The scientific method based on testing theories with evidence is utterly foreign to this mindset.

      However, fact checking is simply the application of scientific method to the hypotheses asserted as facts that we encounter in daily life. If the fact checkers are doing their job, they cite their sources so that YOU, their reader, can fact check their fact checking. The first thing that any fact-checker should do is contact the person who made the questioned statement and ask them to provide sources for their statement (if it is not based on a first-hand observation).

      They should also contact the party who questioned the statement to determine their sources. The sources themselves, if not based on personal observation, will also need to be fact checked. Finally, the fact checkers should conduct independent research to look for additional evidence.

      The fact checker publishes a conclusion as to the truthfulness of the statement, but should also list all the evidence for or against that conclusion. The reader can then compare all the various sources to reach an independent conclusion. One should not trust a fact checker who fails to provide sources any more than one should trust the original statement without evidence.

      None of that is a threat to the free expression of ideas, but it is a huge threat to those who would profit through distributing falsehood as fact. So those who would attack the truth generally attack the fact checkers as well.

      1. Bravo TxUser! Well said.

        We see perfect examples of this when cracked eggs like botvinnik attack “the media” or excellent and objective sites like Snopes because they — with no data of their own — simply refuse to use the scientific method for any of their flawed reasoning. Pure laziness on their part. To top it all off, botvinnik thinks that insulting others wins arguments. When that happens, you know he has no argument that holds water.

        It would be nice if internet forums were moderated by real humans, but the fact is that the internet is now driven by scripts and ads. Value of content apparently isn’t important to most web sites.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.