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Sir Tim Berners-Lee has a pop at Facebook

Excoriates it for selling its users' data
Mon Nov 22 2010, 17:30

WEB PIONEER Sir Tim Berners Lee has hit out against web firms that hoover up, hoard and sell their customers' personal information.

In an article penned for Scientific American, Berners-Lee, the man widely credited with the invention of the world wide web had a go at what he termed its "most successful inhabitants". Specific denizens on the web that he fingered were Facebook, Linkedin and Friendster.

Social notworking websites have been building up vast databases of highly valuable information on their subscribers and recently a cold war has broken out with Facebook and Google unwilling to grant access to each other's databases.

Berners-Lee observed that such websites result in users' data not actually being put on the public web, but rather is only accessible through a particular website.

Actually, Berners-Lee used some pretty harsh adjectives to describe what Facebook and similar websites are doing, calling them "data silos, walled off from others", effectively labeling them walled gardens. He cited AOL's failure to thrive as a walled garden as a prime example of why open standards should be used.

The article was really a call towards the use of open standards, not only for coding as has become in vogue with HTML5, but in the sharing of data. Berners-Lee was careful in his wording, saying that open standards do not mean companies cannot charge for access, but they offer a level playing field allowing everyone to compete and leaving the public to decide who wins in the end.

Hoarding of personal data by social notworking websites is vital to their future profitability. It is in the interest of Facebook and others to keep the highly detailed information they have acquired from monitoring users and their interactions to themselves, sharing data only with those that offer them cold, hard cash.

There is of course nothing wrong with what Berners-Lee wrote, but sadly his and others' views that promote the free sharing of data will be shunned by the naked economics of web advertising.

One can only hope that the man who had the foresight to design the very system that makes it possible for mercenary operations such as Facebook to exist won't blame himself for their violations of its founding principles in their grasping for money. µ



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