The inventor of the world wide web wants to fix what he started and save your data.
Speaking at the Oktane19 conference in San Francisco, Sir Tim Berners-Lee – who created the web in 1989 – discussed his latest project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Solid.
“The Solid project is about turning the way the web works upside-down,” Berners-Lee said. “It’s about separating the apps from the data.”
Solid – which is derived from “social linked data” – gives users the ability to select where their data resides and who is able to access it.
By separating data from apps, users can avoid being “locked in” by specific vendors and enjoy more control over their data.
It has been the recent prevalence of data misuse that has created the need for something like Solid, Berners-Lee said, pointing to one notable example.
“People didn’t think about this very much until Cambridge Analytica,” he said.
“Maybe five to ten percent of people of the people out there on the street would have really thought about losing their privacy, and then when Cambridge Analytica happened that went up by a huge amount.”
Just what are people worried about when it comes to their data and privacy?
“It’s not the risk that the photograph you took will end up being shown to the wrong person and end up on the front page of The New York Times,” he suggested.
“Privacy risk is more subtle – it’s realising that all of this user-generated data that I have typed in is being used to build profiles, not just of me but of everyone like me.”
Living in a Fake News world
He also touched on some notable internet-enabled issues that have arisen in previous years, in particular the US Presidential Election of 2016 and the advent of ‘fake news’.
“The moment you drive people by ad funding, then you’ll get the phenomenon like during the Trump campaign, where kids from Macedonia were putting up websites, tweeting stuff pointing to the website and getting funded.
“In Macedonia there’s not a lot for kids to do, so one of the things they do is just get ad revenue from Google ads.
“Google ads would reward them every time they found something that people would click on – and they gradually learned to put in things about [Donald] Trump and Hilary [Clinton].”
Sir Berners-Lee also made it quite clear this wasn’t how he envisioned the web being used.
What he pictured was a hub of collaboration, which he is now hoping will one day be restored.
“One of the things I’d like to see come from the Solid world is really powerful collaboration,” he said.
“Twenty-five years ago I was hoping that the web would produce that. With the Solid project we’ll be able to get it back to being a very collaborative medium.”