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Tim Berners-Lee Proposes Tech Giant Break Up

Ross Kelly

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Tim Berners-Lee has taken aim at tech giants for the second time in a month, suggesting that companies such as Facebook and Google may need to be broken up.

Unless challenger companies or cultural shifts occur, the dominance of the global technology sector’s big-hitters will continue unabated, he told Reuters.

In October, the father of the world wide web announced a new venture aimed at revolutionising personal data privacy, which he said was in direct response to the growing influence of tech giants such as Google.

Dangers of Concentration

“What naturally happens,” he told Reuters. “Is you end up with one company dominating the field, so throughout history there is no alternative to really coming in and breaking things up. There is a danger of concentration.”

Since the early 1990s, US-based tech firms have come to dominate the global landscape, which Berners-Lee says gives them incredible political and financial power.

Combined, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook have a market capitalisation of more than $3.7 trillion, which is equal to Germany’s GDP in 2017; a staggering statistic.

While the tech mogul said breaking up some tech giants could prove a necessary move in the near future, he cautioned restraint in the short-term. Changing trends, along with the pace of innovation and technological change, could help stifle the unparalleled growth of some firms.

He said: “Before breaking them up, we should see whether they are not just disrupted by a small player beating them out of the market, but by the market shifting, by the interest going somewhere else.”

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Outspoken Criticism

In October, Berners-Lee took aim at some Silicon Valley tech giants and proposed a user-focused project to decentralise the web.

In collaboration with entrepreneur John Bruce, he launched Inrupt, which will aim to boost the adoption of the solid decentralised web project – a long-running project that improves upon existing web protocols and lets users store their data in a secure method. Rather than using a centralised server, users can utilise the cloud or other platforms to store data in online ‘pods’.

His most recent comments bear similarities to the announcement last month, in which he criticised current data privacy standards and recent scandals.

Cambridge Analytica, he said, was a tipping point for him and highlighted the current state of the web – and certain organisations.

He said: “I am disappointed with the current state of the web. We have lost the feeling of individual empowerment and to a certain extent I think the optimism has cracked.”

Apologies by prominent figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, he suggested, seem to be nothing more than talk and lack any real substance or response. Despite the Cambridge Analytica scandal, some platforms are still being used to circulate hateful messages and at their core even appear to be focused around negativity.

“If you put a drop of love into Twitter it seems to decay but if you put a drop of hatred you feel it actually propagates much more strongly. And you wonder: ‘Well is that because of the way that Twitter as a medium has been built?'”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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