Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Monday, 17 March 2008

Questions and answers: Tim Berners-Lee

By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has fears over the future of the internet
The creator of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, answers questions about the future of the web, social networking and personal privacy online.

Q. Lots of people are putting lots of information about themselves on sites like Facebook and Myspace. What would you say to those young people?

Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it's all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well.

The danger is when you put something into a public space in order to share it with a few friends and in fact you've forgotten that it's actually a public space or that the list of friends is huge or that some of them can't be trusted not to be put it somewhere else.

Q. Are you too old for things like MySpace and Facebook?

I've seen no evidence - either from my point of view or anybody else - that social networking and generally using the net to interact with other people is something that's restricted to young people.

In fact it's very popular with older people. Young people can get on their bikes and visit each other, older people can't.

It may turn out to be more important for seniors than for young people.

Q. A lot of companies are now trying to get a lot of data about their users which they can then market on to advertisers. Do you have a view?

Different people have different attitudes. I myself feel that it is very important that my ISP supplies internet to my house like the water company supplies water to my house.

It supplies connectivity with no strings attached. My ISP doesn't control which websites I go to, it doesn't monitor which websites I go to.

Q. What would you feel if it wanted to do that?

I would want to use an ISP that doesn't. I personally want to feel free. I want to know if I look up a whole lot of books about some form of cancer that that's not going to get to my insurance company and I'm going to find my insurance premium is going to go up by 5% because they've figured I'm looking at those books.

Q. What about your clickstream?

It's mine - you can't have it. If you want to use it for something then you have to negotiate with me, I have to agree; I have to understand what I'm getting in return.

Q. Three major British internet providers are considering introducing a scheme which will in some way track people's web history. What would you say to those companies.

I'd say if that was an option I wouldn't take it. If it wasn't an option, I would look for another ISP.

My personal feeling about an ISP is that I want it to be a transparent connection. I don't want to have to think about the secondary implications of going to a site.

Q There is a choice between opt in and opt out - are you saying you'd prefer opt-in?

My personal feeling is that it should be opt-in, yes.

Q. Because otherwise it can go by default?

I think consumers rights in this are very important. We haven't seen the results of these systems being used.

My own personal preference is that the consumer, the individual person should be protected because individual people and the difference between individual people and the diversity we have between people on the planet is so important.

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