Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web in 1989. In the 30 years that have since passed, the network he pioneered has transformed lives across the world.
But, in 2019, Berners-Lee feels this transformation has not spread far enough, or stuck to the original principles of a free internet. To that end, he has launched the ‘Contract for the Web’—a bill of rights of sorts for the internet that enshrines nine principles.
Taking to Twitter, Berners-Lee wrote, “A year ago I called for governments, companies & citizens to come together to protect the web as a force for good. Today, we launch the Contract for the Web — the first global plan of action to build the #WebWeWant. Join us.”
If we fail to defend the free and open web, we risk a digital dystopia of entrenched inequality and abuse of rights.— Tim Berners-Lee (@timberners_lee) November 25, 2019
We must act now. Join me in backing the Contract for the Web — a global plan of action for the #WebWeWant. @webfoundationhttps://t.co/CeLuSzKtqB
The principles—which are non-binding—call for governments, companies and citizens to ensure availability and open access to the internet, protect privacy and data rights, work towards making the internet for available to those who have been excluded, and create healthy communities and promote the use of open licenses.
This, it hopes to achieve, through getting signatories to follow a framework to protect privacy and data rights as well as enact laws that could keep internet access ongoing. For example, Principle 2 deals with “government-triggered internet disruption”, and suggests legal and regulatory frameworks to minimise these disruptions and make sure they are only conducted through the rule of law.
According to the website internetshutdowns.in, India had 357 internet shutdowns since 2012. In 2017-18, India had the most internet shutdowns in the world.
A similar challenge is increasing internet penetration. A 2018 report by the Web Foundation found that the growth in internet users had dramatically slowed from 2007 to 2018. A UN-goal to ensure internet access to at least half the world’s population has been missed several times over the years since it was first declared in 2017. The UN’s sustainable development goal of internet access for all by 2020 is far from being achieved.
Described as a ‘global action plan’, the Contract for the Web was “guided by a core group of 10 which meets regularly to coordinate and plan for the contract’s success,” which included the governments of France and Germany, the organisations of Wikimedia, Avaaz, CIPESA, the Web Foundation and the NewNow, and Google, Microsoft and Pango.
Companies like Google and Facebook—which have been accused of violating their user’s data privacy—have backed the project since its early stage, with Google donating $1 million to the World Wide Web Foundation in 2018 to help draft the principles laid out in the contract.
In the list of supporters of the project are entities like Google, Facebook, DuckDuckGo, Microsoft, Github, Reporters Sans Frontiers, Twitter, Reddit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others.
On October 29, the day the first message was sent via the US Department of Defence's ARPANET project—Berners-Lee marked the 50th 'birthday' of the internet with a call for the Contract for the Web to become a reality. Writing in a blog post, Berners-Lee said, “It’s astonishing to think the internet is already half a century old. But its birthday is not altogether a happy one. The internet — and the World Wide Web it enabled — have changed our lives for the better and have the power to transform millions more in the future. But increasingly we’re seeing that power for good being subverted, whether by scammers, people spreading hatred or vested interests threatening democracy."
“A year ago, I called for a new Contract for the Web, bringing together governments, companies and citizen groups to come up with a clear plan of action to protect the web as a force for good. In a month’s time that plan will be ready. This birthday must mark the moment we take on the fight for the web we want.”