The global internet standards organisation set up by World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee is now ‘no longer fit for purpose’, campaigners claimed today.
The Movement for an Open Web (MOW) alliance alleged that the World Wide Web Consortium, known as W3C, had been ‘hijacked by Big Tech, in particular Google’.
MOW – a group of tech businesses, advertisers and publishers – has urged authorities in the US, UK and Europe to investigate whether the ‘processes and procedures operating at W3C favour Big Tech and are compatible with antitrust laws’.
W3C, which was founded in 1994 by computer scientist Sir Tim who is still a director today, is intended to be an independent impartial body for agreeing web standards.
But MOW has now complained to Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority, the European Commission and the US Department of Justice over the workings of W3C.
British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, pictured in Milan in 2019, set up global internet standards organisation the World Wide Web Consortium, known as W3C, in October 1994
Sir Tim is pictured in his office in June 1998 in front of the W3C logo on two computer monitors
MOW claimed today that W3C has fallen under the sway of Google, which has 106 representatives assisting the body, whereas most digital businesses only have one.
The alliance has also attacked the CMA and Information Commissioner’s Office for allegedly naively assuming the W3C is genuinely independent and impartial.
Who is Sir Tim Berners-Lee and how did he invent the internet?
British computer scientist Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, was born on June 8, 1955 and studied physics at Queen’s College, Oxford.
After graduating in 1976, he started as an engineer in the telecommunications and microprocessor software industry.
In 1980, while working as an independent contractor at CERN, he described the concept of a global system based on using hypertext to share information between researchers.
It was then that he built a prototype system called Enquire, which formed the conceptual basis for the World Wide Web.
In 1989 Sir Tim published his landmark paper, ‘Information Management: A Proposal’, and built the first WWW server and web browser ‘WorldWideWeb.app’.
In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community where web standards are agreed upon. He is still heavily influential there today.
Sir Tim is also an advocate for internet freedom and open data. In 2009 he founded the World Wide Web Foundation, and in 2012 he co-founded the UK’s Open Data Institute (ODI).
Among his many accolades, he was awarded a Knighthood and the Order of Merit, and was the first recipient of Finland’s Millennium Technology Prize.
He was also awarded the Charles Stark Draper Prize and the Mikhail Gorbachev award for ‘The Man Who Changed the World’ and was named among Time magazine’s 100 most important people of the 20th century.
MOW said it had made ‘formal, detailed submissions’ to the CMA, DoJ and EC in which it was ‘charging W3C with bias, favouring the giant tech corporations in its procedures and decision-making and failing to comply with antitrust laws’.
The organisation, which is campaigning against Big Tech’s grip over the web, added that it was disappointed that last week, the CMA and ICO in separate papers both cited W3C as the right place for the application of universal standards.
MOW pointed out that Google ‘has 106 employees assisting W3C in its work, while most other companies have just one’.
It added that an antitrust report by the US House of Representatives noted Google representatives significantly outnumbered those of other members at 106.
This US report also quoted a participant who gave evidence, saying W3C ‘gives the impression of being a place where members collaborate to improve the web platform, but in reality, Google’s monopoly position and aggressive rate of introducing new, non-standard features frequently reduces them to discussing and codifying Google’s features and rubber-stamping decisions Google has already taken’.
A MOW spokesman said: ‘In theory, the W3C is an open forum where tech companies work together on assessing the impact of proposed software and technology changes and agreeing steps that need to be taken to ensure unlimited access and fair competition for all.
‘But this has not been the case where Google’s new ‘Privacy Sandbox’ is concerned.’
This was a reference to Google planning to replace third party cookies with a new ‘Privacy Sandbox’.
It means that instead of these traditional cookies, where advertisers can track individuals across the websites they visit, users will be split into cohorts.
But MOW claims this would restrict open web competition by reducing the amount of information other tech, advertising and publishing firms can gather on users.
MOW said it is ‘now calling for the authorities to investigate whether the processes and procedures operating at W3C favour Big Tech and are compatible with antitrust laws’.
It added: ‘If they are not compatible, MOW is looking for the application of suitable remedies.’
W3C, an international community where web standards are agreed upon, was founded in 1994
The Movement for an Open Web alliance alleged that W3C, had been ‘hijacked by Big Tech, in particular Google’. The tech giant’s offices in Mountain View, California, are pictured above
Timothy Cowen, MOW’s legal advisor and head of antitrust at Preiskel & Co, said: ‘The W3C has been captured by Big Tech, even its own antitrust guidelines have not been enforced when they should have been.’
MOW also accused W3C of adopting ‘weak processes which allow major players to stack the deck in their favour.’
It added: ‘There are precedents for intervention by the authorities when such issues arise – for instance the mobile phone standards association, GSMA, was found to be similarly biased towards the major operators, when it was investigated by the DoJ in 2019.’
MailOnline has contacted W3C, Google, the CMA and the ICO for comment.
Timeline of how Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web
When Sir Tim Berners-Lee, an Oxford University graduate, submitted his initial proposal for an information management system to colleagues at CERN more than 30 years ago, it is unlikely he knew the power the Web would wield and the impact it would have on society. Here is a look at the history of the early Web and its creation:
March 1989: Information Management: A proposal written by Tim Berners-Lee and circulated for comments at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN.
October 1990: Sir Tim starts work on a hypertext graphical user interface (GUI) browser and editor using a NeXT Cube computer and the NeXTStep development environment programme. He chooses ‘WorldWideWeb’ as the name for the project.
August 1991: The files on the project are made available on the internet.
May 1992: Pei Wei, a student computer programmer and member of the eXperimental Computing Facility computer club at the University of California, Berkeley, submits his ‘Viola’ browser for the project’s X test version.
February 1993: National Centre for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) releases the first alpha version of Marc Andreessen’s ‘Mosaic for X’, which would become the browser used to popularise the Web, being ported to Microsoft Windows and eventually being licensed by Microsoft to create its Internet Explorer browser.
April 1993: CERN declares WWW technology would be freely usable by anyone, with no fees being payable to the organisation.
May 1994: First International WWW Conference at CERN in Geneva.
October 1994: The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community where web standards are agreed upon, is founded.