PhotoTim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, says big tech platforms are having a negative impact on competition and society.

Berners-Lee penned an open letter marking the 29th birthday of the internet in which he argued that the “powerful weight of a few dominant” tech platforms are creating barriers for competitors, which could stifle innovation over the next 20 years.

“These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors,” Berners-Lee wrote. “They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry’s top talent. Add to this the competitive advantage that their user data gives them and we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last,” he said.

Ruling of tech companies

The web, which was “once a rich selection of blogs and websites,” is now controlled by a few mega platforms, Berners-Lee says. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon wield a large amount of control over how ideas are shared.

Platform power has made it possible for people to “weaponize the web at scale,” he says.

“In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data,” he writes.

The current response of lawmakers has been to look “to the platforms themselves for answers,” but calling on companies that were built to maximize profit to fix the problem isn’t likely to be effective, says Berners-Lee.

Socially minded regulation

Berners-Lee suggests that socially minded regulation may be the best means to ensure that the internet benefits everyone.

"A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease...tensions," he wrote. "Today’s powerful digital economy calls for strong standards that balance the interests of both companies and online citizens."

Ultimately, Berners-Lee wants to turn the web into something that will “reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions.”

“It may sound utopian, it may sound impossible to achieve after the setbacks of the last two years, but I want us to imagine that future and build it,” he said.


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