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Tim Berners-Lee warns about web firms and CISPA

Leave it all behind
Wed Apr 18 2012, 15:23

WORLD WIDE WEB INVENTOR Sir Tim Berners-Lee is not very happy with the way his baby is turning out and has called on people and firms to stop using it in the ways they do.

Tim Berners-Lee has popped up in the Guardian as part of its series of interviews with internet experts, a series in which Google co-founder Sergey Brin has already appeared.

Pull out of the web giants and demand your data back, Berners-Lee said, and watch out for firms that offer walled gardens.

In a wide ranging discussion Berners-Lee took on internet giants and smartphone makers that have application stores, suggesting that they make use of users' data to their own advantage.

He said that if users have control over their own information and online personas then they can use them to their own benefit. He explained that while the information resides in data silos belonging to giant web firms, this will never happen.

"One of the issues of social networking silos is that they have the data and I don't... There are no programs that I can run on my computer which allow me to use all the data in each of the social networking systems that I use... and so on to really provide an excellent support to me," he said.

Ideally, data that these firms gather would be released to users in an open standards way, he added. This then would let computers interact better with their users. "It will know not only what's happening out there but also what I've read already and also what my mood is, and who I'm meeting later on."

Although these comments paint the dominant web firms in a bad light and no one wants to be called a "silo", Berners-Lee said that competition from smaller firms would make it harder for them to become too monopolistic. However, he cautioned users against relying on any of them to be a permanent source of available backups.

"Whatever social site, wherever you put your data, you should make sure that you can get it back and get it back in a standard form. And in fact if I were you I would do that regularly, just like you back up your computer," he added. "Maybe our grandchildren depending on which website we use may or may not be able to see our photos."

Web firms were not his only targets, and in what the Guardian said was a dig at Apple Berners-Lee bemoaned those companies that pull their users into walled gardens. "I should be able to pick which applications I use for managing my life, I should be able to pick which content I look at, and I should be able to pick which device I use, which company I use for supplying my internet, and I'd like those to be independent choices," he said.

All is not lost though, and Berners-Lee also said that the do-not-track proposal that has some backing in the industry would restore some user confidence in services. He added that other mooted initiatives like the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), could take that away.

"[CISPA] is threatening the rights of people in America, and effectively rights everywhere, because what happens in America tends to affect people all over the world," he explained.

"Even though the SOPA and PIPA acts were stopped by huge public outcry, it's staggering how quickly the US government has come back with a new, different, threat to the rights of its citizens." µ


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