The fightback against Big Tech’s feudal lords has begun
Sir tim berners-lee had a Romantic vision when he created the World Wide Web in 1989. In his words, he helped “weave” it together as a way of connecting anything to anything—as if he were sitting at a loom, not at cern, a particle-physics laboratory in Geneva. But those were halcyon days. Now the web risks falling into what he has called a dystopia of prejudice, hate and disinformation. People around him talk of “digital feudalism” to describe the control big technology platforms have over data. As a result, Sir Tim has co-founded a startup, Inrupt, that aims to shift the balance of power. It is one of many incipient efforts aimed at putting data back into the hands of the people.
It sounds quixotic. The use of data, after all, is now the world’s biggest business. Some $1.4trn of the combined $1.9trn market value of Alphabet (the owner of Google) and Facebook, comes from users’ data and the firms’ mining of it, after stripping out the value of their cash, physical and intangible assets, and accumulated research and development. They are not sated yet. Around the world, sensors on everything from cars to kitchens are expected to churn out exponentially more personal information as the “Internet of Things” expands. The tech giants have their beady eyes on it.