Today, the Web turns twenty-six years old. On March 12th 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, put forward a proposal to make information sharing possible over computers, using nodes and links to create a “web” that would eventually stretch worldwide.
Twenty-six years later, it’s difficult to imagine a world without the Web. Over two in five of the world’s population are now connected, often bridging geographical and social divides. It’s revolutionised the lives and opportunities for billions of people around the world.
And it’s been a momentous year for the Web – changes and threats to the Web are still emerging rapidly. To mark the occasion, we’ve rounded up ten big moments for the Web over the past year.
Which moments grabbed your attention? Let us know at @webfoundation, and we’ll add to our list with the best of yours.
1) The world marks #Web25.
On March 12 2014, the celebrations of the Web’s twenty-fifth birthday reached over a billion people, as hundreds of thousands of people came together on social media to celebrate the big day. The moment captivated many. Some reflected on the significance, pace and scale of change over the past 25 years, whilst others began a conversation about the Web’s future.
Recalling the theme of his famous tweet during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, “This is for Everyone”, Sir Tim Berners-Lee marked the anniversary by saying:
“The Web’s billions of users are what have made it great. I hope that many of them will join me today in celebrating this important milestone. I also hope this anniversary will spark a global conversation about our need to defend principles that have made the Web successful, and to unlock the Web’s untapped potential. I believe we can build a Web that truly is for everyone: one that is accessible to all, from any device, and one that empowers all of us to achieve our dignity, rights and potential as humans.”
2) The world get its first Internet Bill of Rights
“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the Republic has approved a law that guarantees the rights and duties for the use of internet in the world.” On April 23rd 2014, President Dilma Rousseff signed the Marco Civil da Internet into law on stage at the Grand Hyatt hotel in São Paulo, Brazil, during the NETmundial conference. The Marco Civil da Internet preserves the Internet as it should be: an open and decentralised network, in which users are the engine for collaboration and innovation. Commendably, the Marco Civil has among its foundations the guarantee of human rights, of citizenship, and the preservation of the diversity and the social purpose of the Web. It provides every Brazilian with strong and enforceable guarantees of free expression, net neutrality, due process, the right to privacy, and the right to connect. It is a product of a wide-ranging consultation with an extensive array of stakeholders over nearly a decade, carrying with it the spirit, hopes and beliefs of scores of campaigners across Brazil and the rest of the world.
Speaking just after the Marco Civil da Internet had been signed into law, Nnenna Nwakanma gave a speech that captured the mood of the live audience and remote participants around the world.
3) Hungary Internet tax cancelled after mass protests
In October 2014, Hungary decided to shelve a proposed tax on Internet data traffic after mass protests against the plan.
The protesters objected to the financial burden but also feared the move would restrict free expression and access to information. The levy was set at 150 forints (£0.40; 0.50 euros; $0.60) per gigabyte of data traffic.
4) Team Internet wins the #Netneutrality battle
Washington insiders said it couldn’t be done. But the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to keep the Internet free and open marked a historic victory for campaigners, following an unprecedented public outcry in the US.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Gruber
Speaking to the Washington Post earlier this year just after he concluded a visit at the White House to rally support for net neutrality, Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned that violating net neutrality would not only destroy one of the fundamental principles of the open Internet, but also that paid prioritisation would be tantamount to “bribery”, and that moves away from net neutrality could stifle innovation and investment. Everyone from comedian John Oliver to President Barack Obama has pointed out that net neutrality is the core of a free and open Internet.
5) Encryption: FBI and MI5 vs. Apple and Google
Around the world, the debate about the value of encryption and the role of anonymity in online communications heated up over the past 12 months. Encryption is where data is rendered hard to read by an unauthorised party; it is helping to provide security to banking, personal messaging, e-retailing, and human rights campaigners, to name a few.
In the year that Apple and Google said the contents of mobile devices that run their operating systems would in future be encrypted by default, security services in the US and the UK publicly campaigned against the move, complaining that law enforcement agencies cannot keep up with modern technology.
“Perhaps it’s time to suggest that the post-Snowden pendulum has swung too far in one direction — in a direction of fear and mistrust,” Federal Bureau of Investigation director James B. Comey told the Brookings Institution in a speech.
Meanwhile, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, warned that changes in technology are “making it harder” to maintain its counter-terrorist capability. Representatives from the NSA, the outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, and members of Congress have all called for Apple and Google to face sanctions for their actions. Australia’s federal police agency also warned of the “very serious consequences” for law enforcement.
6) The $25 smartphone and new efforts to connect the unconnected
In late 2014, Mozilla launched a $25 phone in several emerging markets like India, the Philippines and Indonesia. Dubbed the world’s cheapest smartphone and run on an operating system built entirely on open Web standards (HTML5), the move marked a new frontier in efforts to connect emerging market countries. Could this be a spur to truly universal access?
The last year has seen the development of a range of important initiatives to open up Internet access to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access – but not without controversy. Google’s Project Loon uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 32 km (20 mi) to create an aerial wireless network with up to 3G-like speeds. 2014 saw the first test in a developing country, and some have raised concerns about content providers simultaneously acting as network providers. The Alliance for Affordable Internet, led by the World Wide Web Foundation, is a coalition of private sector, public sector, and civil society organisations who have come together to advance the shared aim of affordable access to both mobile and fixed-line Internet in developing countries. The initiative has so far gained the commitment of four countries — the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Nigeria and Mozambique — to work to shift policies and regulation. The initiative has already seen Ghana commit to abolish import duties on smartphones. Meanwhile, Internet.org, led by Facebook, is offering free Internet services for those apps and services that have partnered with Facebook and various service providers. Some have spoken out about this type of so-called positive traffic discrimination, where one set of apps and services are privileged over another, for its potential to crowd out competition and stagnate the market for available Web services.
8) The Snowden effect
Leaks based on documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden have continued to make waves across the globe. Perhaps the most startling story based on information supplied by Snowden came last month, when it was revealed that US and British spies had hacked into the world’s largest SIM card manufacturer and gained unfettered access to billions of mobile phones around the globe. They did this by targeting innocent employees of Gemalto, a Netherlands-based SIM card manufacturer, in order to steal encryption keys that allowed them to secretly monitor voice calls and data. Rights groups around the world, including the Web Foundation, renewed calls for urgent action to protect private communications. The fallout is still ongoing.
March 2014 saw Snowden’s appearance as a telepresence robot at TED2014 where he talked about surveillance and Internet freedom. He was joined onstage by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation.
9) #Ferguson. Fighting racial discrimination in a digital age.
In November 2014, the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson over the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown saw protests spread across the US – shaped, in part, by social media. In just a few hours, 3.5 million tweets were posted about the ruling using #Ferguson.
The mass of real-time updates on social media shaped a raw public discourse about Michael Brown, race relations and police force in the US.
In many ways, #Ferguson became a national conversation thanks to social media, creating an opening for broader discussions about inequality in the criminal justice system. The hashtag also has become a rallying cry for the social justice movement that has grown out of Michael Brown’s death.
10) Presidency via social media
October 2014 saw the ousting of Burkina military coup chief Blaise Compaoré, who had held the country’s presidency for 26 years. It was a significant moment, not just because there was an unprecedented social uprising in one single day, but because at a point, he appeared to be practicising “Presidency via Social Media.” During a siege of the presidential palace, Mr Compaore used his Twitter account to communicate, calling for calm and quiet, before finally issuing a statement saying that the presidency was now vacant and urging elections within 90 days.
Which were your biggest moments during the Web’s 25th anniversary year? What would you include? Tweet us your thoughts at @webfoundation