Why isn't Apple (yet) supporting Tim Berners-Lee to 'save the web'?

The inventor of the web has launched a campaign to make sure the web benefits everyone, but Apple hasn't joined up yet.

Apple, iOS, macOS, Internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, privacy, security, dystopia
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Apple isn’t (yet) among the signatories for a global campaign to save the web launched by Tim Berners-Lee.

I hope this is something the company plans to change.

What’s the story?

Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, is concerned that the web is becoming a forum for political manipulation, fake news, privacy violations and other harms that he fears may plunge us all into what he calls “digital dystopia."

He’s launched a new global action plan and is asking governments, companies and individuals to commit to protecting the web and ensuring it benefits humanity.

“The power of the web to transform people’s lives, enrich society and reduce inequality is one of the defining opportunities of our time,” he said.

“But if we don’t act now - and act together - to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering that potential.

“At this pivotal moment for the web, we have a shared responsibility to fight for the web we want. Many of the most vocal campaigners on this issue have already recognised that this collaborative approach is critical.”

It strikes me as odd, given Apple CEO Tim Cook’s leadership when it comes to privacy, that his company is not among the initial list of signatories to the commitment.

It strikes me as equally odd that Google and Facebook are signatories, given my low opinion of both firms when it relates to some of the commitments given in what Berners-Lee calls the "Contract for the Web."

What’s in the Contract for the Web?

“The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available. Everyone has a role to play to ensure the web serves the public good,” the website declares.

It consists of a number of commitments, including:

  • Everyone should be able to get online.
  • All of the internet should be available to all.
  • Privacy should be respected
  • Web users should have access to any data held on them.
  • Users should be able to object to data being held.
  • Users should be able to prevent their data being processes.
  • The Internet should be affordable.
  • Web services be accessible.

There are also commitments to creating simple user interfaces with which to access privacy settings, to ensure workforces are diversified and that tech firms assess the risk of the technology they provide.

In addition to commitments to government and companies, there are individual commitments to the creation of content, online communities and a commitment to the open web.

It is true to say that at present we are a long way from unified simple UIs with which users can control their privacy and data. I use a fantastic app called Jumbo to keep my data private and to undermine the surveillance-based businesses of some of these firms).

You can learn more about the Contract for the Web here.

Why hasn’t Apple signed-up?

I don’t know why Apple hasn’t yet lent its support to what seems at first glance to be quite positive commitments around the future of the web. After all, I feel that the vast majority of the commitments made in the contract seem to reflect Apple’s public commitments and activities around privacy – promises I sometimes feel its competitors match, at best, reluctantly.

That’s why it seems strange Apple isn't in the vanguard of these commitments – instead allowing others to burnish their reputations with lip service to such support. After all, when it comes to accessibility, multiple language support, and user privacy Apple has a strong story to tell. 

Ultimately, the campaign message really reflects what Cook was saying when he spoke to European privacy commissioners in 2018:

“Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies,” he said then.

“Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated or crazy.”

It makes sense for Apple to lend its support to Berners-Lee’s campaign on  the strength of that statement alone. It makes less sense for it to fail to support this campaign.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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