Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has called for tighter regulation of online political advertising, which he says is being used in :unethical ways.”
“We urgently need to close the ‘internet blind spot’ in the regulation of political campaigning,” he said, writing in an open letter marking the 28th anniversary of his invention.
The 61-year-old British computer scientist described how political advertising has become a sophisticated and targeted industry, drawing on enormous pools of personal data on Facebook and Google. This means that campaigns create personalized ads for individuals — as many as 50,000 variations each day on Facebook during the 2016 US election, he said.
This can become unethical when voters are pointed to fake news sites and using messaging to discourage people from turning out to vote, as the Trump campaign did with certain groups whose support Hillary Clinton needed to win.
“Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?” Berners-Lee said.
The lack of regulation in political advertising online was one of three trends that threaten the openness of the web that Berners-Lee has become “increasingly worried” about over the past year. The others are the loss of control over our personal data and the spread of misinformation online.
Personal data is the price many of us agree to pay for free services online, but Berners-Lee points out that “we’re missing a trick” by letting large data-harvesting companies –” such as Google, Facebook and Amazon — control that information.
“As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realize if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it,” he said.
A more pernicious side-effect of this data aggregation is the…