Tim Berners-Lee calls for tighter regulation of online political advertising – Olivia Solon Saturday 11 March 2017 19.01 EST


Inventor of the worldwide web described in an open letter how it has become a sophisticated and targeted industry, drawing on huge pools of personal data

Tim Berners-Lee: ‘Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?’
Tim Berners-Lee: ‘Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?’ Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide 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 personalised 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.

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