This week, the world wide web turned 30. It may be hard for many of us to imagine a time when you couldn’t just log on to the internet and search the web. It is how many of us stay in touch, make friends, talk, search and share information.
But 30 years ago, none of that was possible.
Back in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee and other scientists at CERN, the world’s largest physics laboratory, were frustrated because they were unable to share the experiments and data stored on their many different computers. He proposed a system whereby information in one part of the globe was connected to every other part – easily searched, available to all and not controlled by anyone.
That vision of universal connectivity became the world wide web.
According to Berners-Lee, connectivity for all is a human right and he is calling on governments to sign a global contract to protect people’s rights and freedoms in the digital age.
“We’re talking about a contract for the web for the next phase … companies and governments need to talk to each other but there’s also a third constituent we’ve included – the consumer … The web in the future should be more user-centric; users should have more control of their data,” Berners-Lee told Al Jazeera’s economic editor Abid Ali.
The web works because it is actually independent of country, when you’re reading the blog you don’t know where the person who wrote it is at the moment, and it shouldn’t matter. I think that’s a really healthy thing for the world.
Asked about progress made in reigning in the power of big tech companies’ use of personal data, Berners-Lee explained that “the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) … even though they’re applied to Europe – have had a massive effect changing the international conversation. So, for example, as a result, since GDPR has come in the EU, four big companies in Silicon Valley – Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft (and others not only in Silicon Valley), they produced a thing called, The Data Transfer Project (DTP). It’s a little-known project, but it is a commitment by those companies that you will be able to get your data, like your photographs or your contacts or whatever it is out of one of them and put it into the other one, or … whatever else you want to do.”
“Philosophically, that’s very interesting because by committing to the Data Transfer Project, these companies are really saying, ‘yeah, this is your data and that’s how we’re going to behave’.”
Three decades ago, Berners-Lee wanted the world wide web to be a place where all people had access to the best information at any time. Today, China has the world’s largest number of internet users, around 829 million according to the government. It also has the Great Firewall and one of the world’s most restrictive internet environments.
“China maybe is the poster child for government censorship of particularly other sources of information, but unfortunately they’re not alone. There are countries in Africa and the Middle East as well, which have pretty serious firewalls,” said Berners-Lee, adding that censorship’s “a really big threat to the web”.
“The web works because it is actually independent of country, when you’re reading the blog you don’t know where the person who wrote it is at the moment, and it shouldn’t matter. I think that’s a really healthy thing for the world,” he said.
“The value of it as a global open platform is hugely greater than what it would be if it were broken into national or continental chunks. So every time we see government censorship, we have to gently persuade the agencies in the relevant governments that they can survive with people exposed to the other point of view … The political debate should be grounded in a good open access to good knowledge about the state of the world.”
Also on this episode of Counting the Cost:
Kenya’s mobile economy: Long before Fintech, Apple Pay and Ali-pay became buzzwords, an unlikely part of the world was leading the charge in mobile payments. M-Pesa, owned by East Africa’s biggest company Safaricom, has agreed to a partnership with China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba. The deal will help Safaricom customers use its mobile-money service outside Kenya.
Robert Collymore, the CEO of Safaricom, offers his take on the social effect of M-Pesa, saying that data shows “numbers of people have been brought out of extreme poverty because of M-Pesa. Every minute, there are 3,000 people who are receiving money on M-Pesa, there’s 2,000 people who’re paying their bills, there’s 380 loans which are issued every single minute using M-Pesa.”
“A lot of Africans don’t use or don’t trust credit cards, so using M-Pesa, which is something so ubiquitous – 21 million Kenyans today are using M-Pesa everyday – it helps those customers conduct those [financial] transactions in a very seamless kind of way.”
Thailand rubber: Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of raw rubber. However, as its global price is plummeting, the country’s farmers are suffering. The government has launched a subsidy programme. But critics say it’s too little too late, and just an attempt to win votes ahead of elections. Scott Heidler reports from Krabi province in southern Thailand.
Lamu Port: Environmentalists in northeast Kenya are campaigning against a major construction project which they say is taking place on land grabbed illegally. The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project is worth an estimated $24.5bn. Activists say it will damage the environment. But the government has accused the activists of standing in the way of progress, even labelling them as “terrorists”, as Zein Basravi reports from Nairobi.
Boeing latest: Boeing calls its 737 the most popular jet aircraft of all time. The United States-based aerospace company hoped its new 737 MAX 8 would bring in a new era of passenger safety. However, two fatal crashes in five months have prompted intense scrutiny over the model’s control systems, as Rob Reynolds reports from Boeing’s aircraft factory in Renton, Seattle.
Social media in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies: Twitter has dropped unverified political ads in the country ahead of India’s national elections next month. Al Jazeera’s Faiz Jamil reports from New Delhi.
Source: Al Jazeera