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The alarming challenge of building a safer, fairer internet

When Martha Lane Fox was starting her career in tech, the internet felt like the "most incredible, redistributive, democratic, empowering force for good." So what went wrong? Fox, a current board member of Twitter and founder of Doteveryone, offers her Brief but Spectacular take on how to make sure the internet lives up to its potential.

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  • Martha Lane Fox:

    The Internet at its best is the collective experience of humanity that moves us on in a positive way. The internet at its worst is the collective experience of humanity that moves us on in a negative way.

    For me, as a young woman who started my career working in technology, it felt as though this was going to be the most incredible, redistributive, democratic, empowering force for good. People, wherever they were in the world, were going to be able to share information, you were going to be able to set up a business in your bedroom even if you had no experience, you were going to reach the whole world’s population, you know, that children were going to have access to the collective knowledge that we’re all going to put on the internet, to a degree that’s absolutely been true. You know, you can go on your computer and have things delivered to your front door in the next few hours. How amazing.

    But it has not all been good. It has also brought with it, unintended consequences that no one in those early days imagined, you know, the Internet is basically a duopoly right now. It’s a duopoly between two big platform businesses, Facebook and Google. Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, yes, sure, but those are the big two and that still takes my breath away.

    I don’t really blame any one group of people for what’s happened to the Internet. I think it’s a process of lots of things and also rapid growth of scaling of platform-based businesses, so called platform businesses, that just happen do quickly they became more powerful than national governments. So, the idea that you could put boundaries around them or regulate them or keep them contained in some way was sort of impossible pretty quickly.

    For me, a safer and fairer Internet revolves around a few different axis. We must make sure everybody is able to use the Internet in a safe and equitable way, have access to it. We also need to keep questioning and being curious about technology. We must make sure we own it, it does not own us.

    The second thing is about the diversity and inclusion more broadly in the products and services that the sector creates. The Internet is basically designed and created by men. I’m a young woman — was a young woman, not anymore, who was lucky enough to fall into the technology sector. And I believe deeply that we need to encourage all kinds of people to take part, create, and build the future.

    And at the minute it is looking terrifyingly like the hierarchies of industry of old and I feel that’s very disappointing when this is a sector and a world that didn’t even exist 30 years ago. The question of our own data and the trail that we leave and the economics of the web and the Internet are extremely vexing.

    It shouldn’t be that complicated. I should be able to know what’s out there about me. I should be able to make a more tangible contract with the other side. So, I think these things are solvable, but I think it’s not well understood by people and I think if they knew the scale of the challenge, it would be a bit more alarming.

    My name is Martha Lane Fox, this is my Brief but Spectacular take on creating a fairer Internet.

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