back to article Berners-Lee: Facebook 'threatens' web future

Tim Berners-Lee has dubbed Facebook a threat to the universality of the world wide web. Next month marks the twentieth anniversary of the first webpage – served up by Berners-Lee at the CERN particle physics lab in Geneva – and in the December issue of Scientific American, he celebrates the uniquely democratic nature of his …


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  1. Turtle

    Oversights, Egregious And Otherwise

    Although Microsoft is frequently slated for its failure to make Windows sufficiently secure, to me, it is Berners Lee who really deserves to be taxed with the far more significant failure to build any kind of security into the Internet. If he had ever had the thought that possibly one day the net he was building might have users who were not physicists, the web might not be such a haven for criminality and anti-social behaviour in general.

  2. Graham Marsden


    ... you're criticising TBL for not having a crystal ball which would allow him to forecast exactly how the web would be used 20 years from its inception?

    Why not criticise Henry Ford for the mass produced motor car, allowing criminals a method of getting away from the Police or Fox-Talbot for creating a method of photography which would allow child pornography or Alexander Graham Bell for inventing the telephone which would let people make dirty phone calls whilst you're at it???

  3. Ed Vim

    Shortsided view

    >> it is Berners Lee who really deserves to be taxed with the far more significant failure

    Things like HTML, TCP/IP, DNS, etc. were never developed to function in such a complicated, high volume way. Today's Internet was never imagined to grow into such a massive monster that it is now. There are so many facets to online technology that were never intended to be taken to the level they have today. Take Flash for instance -- originally it was just for simple, animated games and graphics, then it grew into a standard media delivery mechanism (hopefully to be replaced sooner rather than later by something like HTML5). Blaming Berners Lee for not designing something absolutely no one had any idea would come to fruition is too simplistic, that's ignoring relatively recent history and applying baby-logic to complex issue.

    Microsoft however has a very well documented history of cutting corners, killing competition, and stifling development simply to increase its own revenue stream. People, even in the tech media, keep saying personal computing wouldn't be at the level it is now but what they fail to see is how much further along we would be if other technologies and companies would have been allowed to grow and prosper (a true 'free market' environment, not the highly modified American-style free market).

  4. stewski

    you fail

    One the web and the internet are not the same.

    Two I'd say your statement is analogous to saying the people who administer a dictionary should have prevented swearing, or those that design roads have failed because people have accidents or use them to ferry illegal goods.

  5. Tom 35 Silver badge

    or Alexander Graham Bell

    The first time a ran into a 419 scam attempt was a voice call. We get bogus scams faxed to us at work all the time, people call me (dispute the do not call list) with offers protect my credit, I won a free trip/prize, clean my ducts (I always tell them I don't have any ducks), and a long list of other scams. Snail mail too.

    Anything useful will be abused by scammers and crooks. Just have to deal with it as we go.

  6. thecakeis(not)alie


    "Think of the children" in one?

    You've got to be ****ing with me.

  7. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: Oversight

    Perhaps he realised that an application protocol is the wrong thing to secure. Instead, you want to secure the transport layer and the addressing system and then let the end-points choose whether and how much to trust the other end. If only there were "sec"ure forms of IP and DNS. Oh, hang on...

  8. Flaco Dude

    not really

    the Internet was designed without the security, so now Tim Berners-Lee is responsible for not fixing it? hogwash. it may be decades before the castles are not ultimately made on sand. think about it.

  9. Ray Simard

    Completely different community

    I suspect that if you'd been involved with the net then, or if you were, then if you remembered better, you'd recall that the net was a realm of professionals: technical, academic, governmental and administrative types who, for the most part, behaved that way. Security beyond password-protecting logons just didn't seem necessary and didn't even come to mind. It's not just the web; protocols like SMTP can easily been seen to have arisen from within that kind of kinder, gentler arena where functionality and simplicity were the driving forces behind design philosophies.

    Even the most farsighted visionaries of that time who might have anticipated a much rougher net world when it was opened to the public would have had a hard time foreseeing the kind of dog-eat-dog jungle that grew around the net, particularly the combination of resourcefulness and ruthlessness that would later drive the more malignant cancers festering within the net community.

    Let's also not forget that the net's core designs, which largely guided later ones, grew out of a time when individuals did not have computers that could be pwned and rootkitted; people used terminals connected to VAXen and other central machines. Can you imagine anyone of the time foreseeing a botnet?

    The vulnerability of the web is also a product of its evolution. When forms were designed into HTML, who would have anticipated SQL-injection attacks requiring sanitizing input from them? Had anyone even thought about buffer overflows as anything but a programming flaw prone to crashing things by sheer accident, nothing worse? When Netscape invented cookies (IIRC), web use could become somewhat stateful. Who thought people would have to concern themselves with such persistent data being used to Big-Brother their meanderings over the net? Can Vixie be faulted for not anticipating DNS poisoning and fast-flux networks (and that partially from the ability to update domain nameservers in minutes instead of days)? Could they even have imagined even more esoteric, but now common, flaws like cross-site and cross-domain scripting?

    I would have taken a prescient genius to foresee such things back then. Cut BL and kindred some slack, Jack.

  10. Jodo Kast

    Trolled by Turtle

    Turtle just trolled you. I checked my crystal ball and it says you will be trolled again in the future.

  11. Anonymous Coward


    We have always been able to see that Facebook is part of the controlled demolition of society. They needed a way for society to be completely fractured, and yet people should still believe that they were connected to one another (lest they go insane - insane people cannot operate cash registers or broker insurance). They considered drugging us, hijacking education and breaking up the family. But now they have a much more efficient way that we can be trained to believe that we still have our humanity even as the last of it is loaded into the incinerator.

    They gave us a perverted charicature of social interaction. Perverted to make the goal of social interaction intirely about pleasing the self. I am only talking to you because it makes ME happy. Why would I talk to anyone otherwise? That's the world view that Zuckerberg et al push. Because selfish people buy more. No one spends £1,000 on an item of clothing unless they have been trained to believe that they are more important than anyone who is not wearing such clothing.

    But I am optimistic, as people are not accepting the program. Whole crops are being lost.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    22 thumbs up?

    Yeah, facebook is just another wall in the Black Iron Prison. Yet here you are, dribbling your inane conspiracies on a social site that advertises products to consumers.

    And if you think commentarding isn't a "perverted charicature [sic] of social interaction" then, wow, you really need to take a quiet moment to look around you.

    Face it, all 23 of you accepted the program a long time ago.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: 22 thumbs up?

    Touché sir. I should start everyday with a good laugh.

  14. Tron


    Berners-Lee (you call him Berner-Lee at one point) appears to be accusing Facebook of giving your data added privacy (from the level of privacy you would have on a standard webpage that isn't within a social networking system). Given the incessant complaints about FB not catering to users' needs for privacy, that is somewhat ironic.

    Social networking sites also offer a degree of protection from hacking and DDoS attacks, that bog-standard websites might not get.

    They silo and re-use your data the way other sites do, but because they are social networking and not Amazon or Tesco, they have access to more of it.

    Are cable companies censoring the internet, or are they just delivering data and streams using internet protocols, separate to your standard internet feed? Maybe we need two pipes, one fast and one slow, for the same reason we have motorways and ordinary roads.

    There are more serious threats, most of which come from governments intent on watching everything, recording everything and censoring whatever they want, usually with less than surgical precision. This will reduce us to lowest-common denominator access based on what is acceptable to politicians, who 'block for votes', pandering to religious groups or tabloid scares. In the commercial arena, we have the threat of proprietary technology and the bizarre vagaries of Apple's chief inquisitor, Steve Jobs, banning at whim as the mood takes him.

    Entropy will affect the net, increasingly, whatever we do. Expect a multinet future.

    And discrimination is a given, globally. Many of us in the 'affluent west' can't afford a fast connection, whilst caps will block services for others. Privatised telecoms providers will only roll out the fastest tech in the most lucrative areas.

    Wireless may not be able to handle high capacity feed for a good long while, for technological reasons, not ideological ones.

    Phormware is a definite threat. We may have already lost the concept of an ISP as purely a data faucet, and that is a bad thing which we, and the ISPs themselves, may come to regret.

    Technological development is most threatened by patents and patent trolls. It is becoming impossible to innovate at many levels, as everything you do has so many patents attached to every tiny feature.

    The goal of the web isn't to serve humanity. It is a technology and has no goals, although those that use, develop and control it all have their own agendas. The goal of governments and corporates who directly and indirectly control the web is not to serve humanity. They intend to serve themselves and we have very little power to prevent that.

    Do not expect the future to be bright. We may well look back on the early years of the web, for all the viruses and slow connection rates, as a golden age.

  15. Havin_it

    Oh no he isn't

    Mostly agree, but think you've got the wrong end of the stick on the Facebook point. It's not that Tom, Dick and Harry can't get at your private data; it's that *you* can't. Can't export content or contacts to a different site; can't show content to a chosen outsider unless (a) they sign up too or (b) you show it to everyone else as well; can't delete content later when it becomes a liability down the line.

    I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure that at least nearly as long as there have been HTTP servers, there have been access-control mechanisms of one sort or another. It's what one does with it that's the issue. I might be willing to give Zuckerberg or his ilk the run of my personal data for their benefit while I'm using their services, if I considered that a fair trade, but not in perpetuity!

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  17. Geoff Campbell

    Err, what?

    Surely the whole point of the Internet is that it is a network full of silo, individual sites with different strengths and weaknesses, different purposes, and different user populations? It was ever thus, and Facebook is no different.

    I think Mr. Berners-Lee needs to step back and take a good hard look at the last twenty years before he starts making such pronouncements.


  18. James Butler
    Thumb Down

    The whole point?

    Spoken like a true Facebooker: Closed-minded, uninformed and bitchy.

    No, the "whole point" of the World Wide Web is information SHARING. That's why Berners-Lee distilled the HTML subset from the existing SGML language in the first place: To makew is more simple to SHARE documents over a network.

    Now the Internet, of course, is quite different from the WWW, which is what we are celebrating, this month. The Internet has been around at least since 1967, nearly 25 years prior to the WWW, and, coincidentally, it was ALSO built for information SHARING.

    The WWW thing is, and has always been, one of openness and progress through shared contribution. See? Learning things is good! It helps keep you from seeming completely uninformed when you decide to speak in public. Learn first, THEN speak.

  19. James Butler

    And another thing ...

    Scott Rosenberg (Salon, et al.) speaks well to one of the notions Sir Berners-Lee brings up ... that walled gardens are less useful than open gardens, which is why an open WWW is more valuable than the closed WWW that we see forming underneath our feet.

    In yesterday's blog post ( he talks about why Rupert Murdoch's dream for a tablet-only newspaper will likely fail, and he does it by bringing up some of the things Sir Berners-Lee brings up with regard to operating within walled gardens. A brief quote:

    "Why do people love getting their news online? It’s timely, it’s convenient, it’s fast — all that matters. Murdoch’s tablet could match that (though it sounds like it may drop the ball on “timely” and “fast”). But even more important than that, online news is connected: it’s news that you can respond to, link to, share with friends. It is part of a back-and-forth that you are also a part of.

    Murdoch’s tablet thingie will be something else — a throwback to the isolation of pre-Web publications. Like a paywalled website, this tablet “paper” will discourage us from talking about its contents because we can’t link to it. In other words, like a paywalled site, it expects us to pay for something that is actually less useful and valuable than the free competition."

    I totally agree with that position, and believe that it reflects one of the primary points Sir Berners-Lee was making ... paywalls restrict the free flow of information, which results in a less-valuable WWW, not a more-valuable WWW.

  20. Winkypop Silver badge

    Let the FaceBookers have their own Internet Lite

    Leave the original cyber-space for us!

    The average IQ on the Net (1.0) would sky rocket.

  21. Tom 35 Silver badge

    Internet Lite

    I think they call that a feature phone.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facebook users are not a type

    Unless you're some sort of genius, there are at least 10s of millions of people on Facebook that are more intelligent than you.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just like the good old days when we looked down on the AOLers

    and the WebTVers

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    You posted here anonymously. Can you, and your tens of millions of intelligent people, do that on Facebook?

    Well done, you've helped prove Tim Berners Lee correct.

  25. Otto von Humpenstumpf

    Why don't you...

    ...feck off then, and take your superiority complex with you while you're at it.

    Would make the cyberspace a much more pleasant place for the rest of us.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Come again?

    TBL is correct because El Reg has one feature that facebook doesn't?

    This reminds me of the remark (I cannot remember who made it) that one of the dangers of facebook is that it is impossible to keep your glamours separate from each other. Look, if you can't handle your incoherent glamours contradicting each other, you shouldn't be in that game in the first place.

    And I'm with AC. There's a bunch of very smart people on facebook and some right fucktards on El Reg, as well as the vice being versa. Remarks that generalise about hundreds of millions of people tend to place the speaker in the fucktard camp. There are some incredibly ill-informed, untalented people in IT. I spent most of Friday having to mop up after some of them. And they all had the benefit of a degree in comp sci.

    Get. Over. Yourselves.

  27. Goat Jam

    What the hell

    is a "Glamour"

  28. Code Monkey

    And Packard, um, Bellers

    According to a mate who used to do Helldesk for Freeserve.

  29. fLaMePrOoF

    Do the math...

    "Tens of millions"? Out or 500 million..?

    Tens of thousands maybe...

    Given the standard distribution curve for IQ scores and overall demographic of Facebook users; (yes, there are very distinct 'types' who use Facebook), you certainly wouldn't have to be a genious...

  30. Daniel 1

    RE: "I spent most of Friday having to mop up after some of them"

    So... You're a janitor?

    It is, I must say, the first time that I've been told that having a 'degree in Comp Sci' was any kind of benefit to doing anything in particular... Or are they all janitors, as well?

  31. Daniel 1

    RE: What the hell

    A 'Glamour' is the sort of verbal pomposity, that someone who criticises other people, for being 'pompous', indulges in.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    That is all.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Widen your horizons

    A glamour is a suit is a mask. It's jargon, not pomposity. Now you know how people outside IT feel.

  34. Mr Grumblefish

    That's me dated then

    I can remember when 'glamour' was a code word for 'naked boobies'.

  35. GeorgeTuk


    How many people have predicted the death of the web now?

    Facebook is the most popular of many similar services, some came before and many will come after, its just a phase as everything is. We all the Cold War was how it would be wasn't.

  36. semprance
    Thumb Down


    "This is just the complaint Google made earlier this month as it banned Facebook from tapping Gmail's Contacts API. Mountain Views won't allow netizens to export email addresses to Facebook unless it reciprocates."

    Oh come on, that's a bit of a stretch isn't it? If Google were all for 'playing fair' they wouldn't have revoked Facebook's access to their API like some petty child. They probably hadn't even considered it before they didn't get there way.

    Not that Facebook is in the right, let's just not pretend that Google's temper tantrum is an echo of Berners-Lees insightful comments, when really it's just a corporate hissy fit.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Very nice...

    ...but it is a pity that no-one is, or will be, listening to him

  38. MMcA

    I have.

    So there.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Closed Worlds

    The thing is, people like to create their own worlds - their called 'communities'. This applies in the physical world and in the web world. The only alternative is to live your life fully in the one world that your govt want you to occupy. A horrible thought, no matter where you live.

    I think it is marvellous that the web provides the means for thousands (or is it millions) of such worlds to be created. The fact that they are closed to some degree isn't a problem - it is necessary for them to exist.

    So I don't see Facebook as a threat just because it's closed. And popular though it is, it doesn't provide the sum-total of the web experience, and never wil.

    I'm more inclined to worry about the threats of criminal activity and government interference. Until they have been eradicated (or at least reduced to nuisance-level), I can't see the web ever being the open all-connected information space that TBL wants.

  40. UBfusion

    Facebook: a dangeroys hybrid between herd and individualistic mentalities

    Your view that closeness is necessary for the existence of e.g. Facebook has deeper explanations: Humans constantly strive for two conflicting goals, on the one hand to belong in a group/herd enjoying the privilege of being accepted as a member, and in the other to be accepted as a unique individual (i.e. not belonging anywhere).

    Being on Facebook or buying an iMac/iPhone/iPad not only creates a divide at both the level of being and of having, but also an artificial scarcity ("you don't know what you're missing out "). Personally, I am constantly, actively and proactively resisting the idea of joining Facebook because I totally HATE artificial scarcity of all kinds.

    Therefore I would counter-argue to Mr. TBL that in the same way he does not disclose the things he wants out of public view, or frills at the idea of publicly available video streams of his premises, in the same way the Internet (or any commodity at that) is bound to have private, shady or totally isolated places. Perhaps his views need some more clarification (even He can't model the internet in two pages, can he?) to reflect the view that if hiding your emails and telephone calls from the public (it's 'information' too, isn't it?) is legal, ethical, healthy and even necessary for the individual's survival, then "closed" spaces on the Internet are too.

    On the other hand, I don't think that Mr. TBL had envisaged the Internet as a Panoptikon (the idea/ideal all governments and agencies salivate at).

    At the bottom of it, what consists a "threat" to the Internet? If the internet is seen like a public commodity (like e.g. water, electricity or telephony), the only threat I can see is the threat of controlled access or deprivation. If the Internet is seen as a public right or freedom, the only thing to fear is also controlled access or deprivation. Are you afraid of that? Personally, if this time comes, I'll say "good riddance" with it. I' ll accept that the Internet was my heroin and that now I will have the change to break free.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Der Tim, what are you saying, exactly?

    I know what he's trying to say and generally I agree that open standards are more useful than proprietary stuff. Curious how he mentions itunes but not skype. But anyway. He also says something very disturbing:

    He seems to say that facebook is bad because it doesn't destroy privacy _enough_. "You put info in it, it doesn't have an URI" so the thinking goes you can't share stuff elsewhere you put into facebook. Ok, fine. But at least some of that info is private info. Some things just shouldn't be public.

    Of course, handing that info to facebook gives them power (over you) that you probably shouldn't want them to have, so don't do that. But that doesn't change the fundamental problem that the web has exactly no provisions for handling sensitive data other than "don't do that then". I'd love for that to be enough, but often enough I'm being forced to hand it over anyway, through other people's choices and requirements. Yes, we should become more aware and less free with sensitive data about ourselves.

    But that isn't going to be enough. We also need ways to handle sensitive data safely and privately in the public web space.

  42. Gannon (J.) Dick


    Vision is the ability to describe a 20 year old punk in printable fashion. TBL does a much better job than I could have.

    What's wrong with the Web was invented long before it's birth. The next 20 years will tell. There is nothing an old punk has to teach a young punk - except to be wary of old punks.

  43. pctechxp

    I spy another threat



    The goal of the Web is to serve humanity

    Facebook a threat to the future of the web? Quite possibly, even probably.

    Gordon Brown? *Definitely*.

    Brown was personally responsible for orchestrating the political corruption surrounding Phorm (or indirectly through Shriti Vadera).

    He ignored petitioners who pleaded for intervention in 2008, and even allowed BT to continue to execute a third trial of illegal mass surveillance.

    Yet the same Gordon Brown was recently appointed to Sir TBL's "World Wide Web Foundation".

    How does Gordan Brown's limitless fascism fit with the vision for the WWW?

  45. MyHeadIsSpinning

    Broon and Berners Lee want data sharing

    Broon wanted to have the isp's handing over all your data via the IMP to the GCHQ to be analysed and used, he wanted to force isp's to share users data without the permission of the users.

    Berners Lee wants websites to allow users to share their data between other websites, so that other companies can analyse and use the data for marketing purposes.

    The thing these two men have in common is that they want our data to be shared between people that they approve of, although they have gone about this in very different ways.

  46. jubtastic1

    "You can’t make a link to any information in the iTunes world"

    I'll just leave this here:

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: "You can’t make a link..."

    Wow you completely missed his point. In this context, Information != website.

  48. jubtastic1


    Actually, I didn't comment on his point at all, I commented on one of his arguments:

    "Entitled "Love Live the Web," the Scientific American piece goes to promote the use of, yes, open standards. If you don't use open standards, Berners-Lee says, you create "closed worlds." Like Apple's iTunes. "Apple’s iTunes system," he says, "identifies songs and videos using URIs that are open. But instead of 'http:' the addresses begin with 'itunes:,' which is proprietary. You can access an 'itunes:' link only using Apple’s proprietary iTunes program.

    "You can’t make a link to any information in the iTunes world—a song or information about a band. You can’t send that link to someone else to see. You are no longer on the Web. The iTunes world is centralized and walled off. You are trapped in a single store, rather than being on the open marketplace. For all the store’s wonderful features, its evolution is limited to what one company thinks up."

    If you'd bothered to click the http link I posted rather than gut reacting you'd have noticed that he's completely wrong about iTunes. Can you index the entire iTunes store? Yes. Could you mash up the store data to change the presentation? Yes. Would this fall foul of the SIte's TOS? Probably. Are TOS for websites fair? can of worms.

    Webpages are information, human readable and machine parseable, if a bit of info is on a publicly accessible webpage then it's on the web, indexed and sorted.


  49. BioTube

    Since when

    Was internet access a "fundamental right"? Continuous creation of nonsense "rights" like that are the reason we're in this mess!

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Since when

    "fundamental right to access the information source of my choice" != "fundamental right to access the internet"

    Which poses an interesting question I suppose, if internet access is a privilege, can people really say that choosing the information they want from the internet is a right? I would say that it is.

    It's not my right to watch TV, but it is my right to freely change the channel on my own TV. And it is not your right to sit outside my house with a jamming device so that I can't watch the channels I want.

    At the end of the day, there is little point even having the internet if it becomes yet another one-way medium. So we should aim to embrace choice not stifle it.

    "Continuous creation of nonsense "rights" like that are the reason we're in this mess!"

    I'd love to know what mess you are referring to.


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