Tim Berners-Lee: Demand your data from Facebook, Google, Twitter

Tim Berners-Lee: Demand your data from Facebook, Google, Twitter

Summary: World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee believes Internet users need to realize the value of the data Internet giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have on them, and demand to have it.


British engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the now 20-year-old World Wide Web, recently had some interesting things to say about the data collected by technology companies. First, he argued that the data in question is more valuable to the user on an individual basis than it is to any given firm.

"Well if it's so valuable to these companies then why can't I sell it? I don't think it's the value to a company," Berners-Lee told The Guardian in an interview. "My computer has a good understanding of my state of fitness, the things I'm eating, the places I'm eating, where I am, where I go, and so on. My phone understands from being, in my pocket, how much exercise I've been getting and how many stairs I've been walking up and so on. In fact, that's completely valuable information for me to use. For me."

Berners-Lee went further. He believes that users should demand to get their data back from Internet giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Not only that, but he believes this data will one day be delivered in a much more useful format, and users should fight to get it that way.

"The computer could be very valuable if I have the value of my data," Berners-Lee said. "One of the issues of social networking silos is that they have the data and I don't. Certainly, people have gone around and demanded their data. So Google has in fact a you-can-have-your-data-back policy. I think there will be consumer pressure on companies to provide that data. But then maybe we need to see standardization between them or products that do conversion."

While I don't believe Twitter has such an option, Facebook has a Download Your Information tool, but it has been heavily criticized for two main reasons: not including all your information and not delivering it in a format that is easy to parse. Berners-Lee wants you, the Facebook user, to demand better.

See also:

Topics: Data Centers, Google, Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • not so fast!

    hmm??? "the man who invented the world wide web"

    i'm pretty sure that the beginnings of the "world wide web" has its foundations with the u.s. military, implementing alternative communications methods in case atmospheric radiation hindered military communications during another world wide war.

    but hey, how would the author of this article know, since his experience is only five years old.
    • Don't confuse the Internet with the World Wide Web.

      Sir Timothy John "Tim" Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA (born 8 June 1955), also known as "TimBL", is an English computer scientist, MIT professor and the inventor of the World Wide Web.


      Also, if you click on the first link my article (which I also wrote), you can read a bit more about the World Wide Web and Tim Berners-Lee.
      • Subject Line

        I wholeheartedly agree with you, but you really shouldn't use Wikipedia as your reference. ;-)
      • symantecs or re-inventing history?

        we will have to agree to disagree. its like the chicken and the egg.

        i would credit mr. berners with inventing html because at the time a internet web was already established (although its civilian version was in its infancy at the time), which facilitated the need and the creation of his html invention.

        you see, the invention of the internet and the world wide web can not be attributed to a single person because as smart as mr. bergin is for developing html, he wasn't smart enough (respectfully) to solely invent the idea and the internet for the military that subsequently led to the world wide web.
    • Don't confuse the internet with the WWW

      Berners-Lee created the WWW to run on top of the internet. His creations included the use of hyperlinks, the http protocol, web servers, and web browsers. But there were (and are) other applications of the internet that are not a part of the WWW, including ftp and usenet.
      Michael Kelly
    • I agree, as we all know

      that Al Gore invented the internet. ;)
      William Farrel
    • He is the father of the Web

      The World Wide Web was created by Tim Berners Lee. He created HTML (using an existing scripting language rather from starting from scratch) and created the first web server, and first web browser - all done on a Steve Jobs NeXT box in 1990 because it was the only machine at that time that was powerful enough with all the right tools. The WWW is a subset of the internet.
  • Demanding Data from Facebook

    I would just like to be able to get a real live customer service person out of Facebook , so that we can take down a Facebook page that shouldn't be there! It is so frustrating with a "company" this large and the millions of dollars they have, that you cannot get them to respond at all. It is not the way to run a company.
  • Wanna know where it all started?

    Please read the following book: "where wizards stay up late the origins of the internet" by katie hafner and matthew lyon. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0684832674/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=worwidbuside-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0684832674
  • "WWW" versus the other internet link protocols

    While Tim Berners-Lee invented HTTP and HTML, and the web concept built on top of them, there were other similar (but less elegant) technologies that existed in 1990 that provided similar functionality, such as Gopher, Archie, Veronica, and WAIS. Tim still is "the man" though.
  • Splitting hairs again.

    How petty can you get? Does everyone have to challenge every statement made in these columns? Even Isaac Newton, to quote the man himself, "stood on the shoulders of giants." Give Tim Berners-Lee the credit to which he is entitled. By developing HTTP and HTML while working at CERN, he made the World Wide Web possible. The big difference between the WWW and what was previously available was its ability to handle pictures and layout rather than dreary old text. Then the enthusiasts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign invented Mosaic which took the WWW to its first great heights. What we are usually talking about when we use the term "Internet" today is really the WWW. The Internet is purely the carrier. PS. I think Tim's onto another good idea here. I hope someone picks it up commercially. Perhaps Google will.
  • Tim Berners-Lee: Demand your data from Facebook, Google, Twitter

    Emil, I find your article very informative article. This is this type of information that mature people that us the www should be aware of and debate. But who are all those idiots out there who read your article that go into a childish argument about who did or did not invent the www and do not even respond with even one comment about this very important subject?

    I can only surmise that they are immature young nerds who don't understand the real value of data and personal information.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Tim Berners-Lee's belief that we all demand our personal data delivered to us in a much more useful format when we request it form these companies. Maybe we should also be more aware and careful what information we give to these companies such as Facebook and Google in the first place.

    Yours africanpete
  • Sir Timothy Berners-Lee

    In response to databaseben

    "i would credit mr. berners with inventing html because at the time a internet web was already established (although its civilian version was in its infancy at the time), which facilitated the need and the creation of his html invention."

    What Sir Timothy did was open up this thing commonly called the internet to the masses. The internet is, as we all know, made up of several components, and so I am at a loss as to see where databaseben has a gripe, as I can't see anywhere in this article where it is claimed that Sir Tim invented the whole internet.

    As to getting your information and selling it yourself, great idea in theory, but the amount that any company would want to pay for individual items of information will be small, and not worth either buying or selling, but where the 'Big Boys' score is that vast quantities that they can sell. An analogy is the penny in the street, is it worth picking it up just for one? Perhaps not, but how about 1000 pennies, certainly I would.
  • Emil, great article, definitely looks like one for the Supreme Court.

    Only trouble I see, is probably get a surplus of the same kind a bumbling idiots that have commented here, there. IE., can't even differentiate what the story line is, much less talk sense about it.
    Here's the truth of the matter, when it is laid out like it is, ie., one line at a time, it's not that much of a deal, as far as a privacy issue, but when complied over time, to where it reads like a book, it becomes much more of a whole, and that my friend is something that needs paid for. I see it as no difference the these record companies and movie hounds wanting there money. It is a "Digital Rights" issue that certainly deserves to be address! And by that I mean, Pay me BEYATCH!
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