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Tim Berners-Lee calls internet privacy rollback ‘disgusting’

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The inventor of the web isn’t happy about what’s happening to his baby

sir tim berners-lee (Paul Clarke, Wikimedia)
Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Photo by Paul Clarke / Wikimedia

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, has hit out at lawmakers rolling back internet privacy laws in the US. Speaking to The Guardian after receiving the Turing award (often described as the Nobel Prize of computing), Berners-Lee said politicians’ attitude toward the internet was “really appalling” and that users were in danger.

“When we use the web, we are so vulnerable,” said the 51-year-old computer scientist. “There are things that people do on the web that reveal absolutely everything, more about them than they know themselves sometimes. Because so much of what we do in our lives that actually goes through those left-clicks, it can be ridiculously revealing. You have the right to go to a doctor in privacy where it’s just between you and the doctor. And similarly, you have to be able to go to the web.”

Berners-Lee, who launched the very first website on August 1st, 1991, was given the Turing Award this year for “major contributions of lasting importance to computing.” While working at CERN in the late 1980s, he developed many of the protocols that underpin, from communication protocols like HTTP to the the basic webpage coding language, HTML.

However, after designing the web as an egalitarian system that was equally accessible to all, Berners-Lee says the model of the internet he invented is under threat. He notes that a number of trends — including intrusive advertising, clickbait, online-tracking, and political partisanship — are eroding qualities that made the open web great.

Speaking about the recent US legislation, which allows ISP to sell their customers web history to advertisers, Berners-Lee said there should have been cross-party opposition to the bill.

“Privacy, a core American value, is not a partisan thing. Democrats fight for it and Republicans fight for it, too, maybe even more,” he told The Guardian. He added: “If they take away net neutrality, there will have to be a tremendous amount of public debate as well. You can bet there will be public demonstrations if they do try to take it away.”