Any way you look at it, the World Wide Web is an incredible achievement. The way that it effortlessly allows billions of Internet users from around the world to connect and accomplish things they never could have before makes it easily one of the most impressive inventions of the past century. In fact, it’s so amazing that it seems churlish to criticize it—unless you happen to be the guy who invented it in the first place, of course.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee (who told me once that anyone who calls him “Sir” in a social setting has to buy a round of drinks) did exactly that during a recent symposium on the future of the web called the Decentralized Web Summit, which convened in an old church in San Francisco by longtime Internet activist Brewster Kahle.
The downside of the way the web has developed since it was created in 1989, Berners-Lee said, is that the same technology that allows for incredible examples of connectivity also supports “spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content [and] taking you to the wrong websites,” he said, which “completely undermines the spirit of helping people create.”
Kahle told the group that CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden showed “we’ve inadvertently built the world’s largest surveillance network with the web.” Countries like China can “make it impossible for people there to read things, and just a few big service providers are the de facto organizers of your experience,” he said. “We have the ability to change all that.”
Just how things might change isn’t clear, unfortunately. Berners-Lee and Kahle, among others, are interested in the potential of blockchain technology—the software that underlies bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies—as a way of making it easier for creators and content owners to get paid and to keep the Internet from relying entirely on advertising as a revenue source. The latter is responsible for some of the web’s worst flaws, Berners-Lee said.
“Ad revenue is the only model for too many people,” the web’s creator said. “People assume today’s consumer has to make a deal with a marketing machine to get stuff for ‘free,’ even if they’re horrified by what happens with their data.” But the biggest problem is a social one, he said. “The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging.
“We don’t have a technology problem, we have a social problem.”
BITS AND BYTES
Mobile payment app backed by Target and Walmart shuts down. Launched in 2014, the Current C initiative was running a beta test for a mobile payments service intended to compete with offerings from Apple, Samsung, and Google. That test will end at the end of June, and it isn’t clear whether the group will ever introduce a working service. Current C’s fate may have been sealed when one of its members, Walmart, introduced its own service last December. (Fortune)
Apple overhauls App Store. The company put marketing executive Phil Schiller in charge of the mobile app store last December. His team is making two big changes to appease developers. It will allow more of them to offer subscriptions and it will display advertisements against search results. (Wall Street Journal, Ars Technica)
Judge upholds Google’s latest victory against Oracle. In a 20-page opinion issued in San Francisco, a federal judge said the jury’s recent ruling in a copyright fight between Oracle and Google was “reasonable.” Oracle challenged how Google uses certain code from the open source Java programming language in its Android mobile operating system, seeking up to $9 billion in damages. The jury didn’t agree, and Oracle has promised to appeal. (Fortune)
Consumers now do most shopping online. Many shoppers are more likely to buy something on an e-commerce site than in a physical store, according to a survey of 5,000 U.S. adults fielded by comScore and UPS. That’s a departure from previous versions of this study. It should be noted the polling base was filtered to include only people who actually make online purchases. (Fortune)
Airbnb adds an important feature for business travelers. The site now allows people to book accommodations on behalf of another person. Airbnb figures roughly 50,000 companies allow employees to use Airbnb apartments or homes while they’re on the road. (Fortune)
Polycom’s unsolicited suitor isn’t giving up. The videoconferencing company has received a third bid from an unnamed private equity firm since it agreed to a takeover by Canada’s Mitel Networks. The latest offer values it at $1.66 billion, compared with the $1.96 billion deal it arranged with Mitel. Polycom decided to go private under pressure from active investor Elliott Management. (Reuters)
Snapchat could soon have more U.S. users than Twitter or Pinterest. Based on its current growth trajectory, the messaging app should reach 58.6 million users by the end of 2016, according to projections by research firm eMarketer. By comparison, Twitter will probably hit 56.8 million, while Pinterest should top 54.6 million. (Fortune)
Google co-founder Larry Page is funding flying cars. It turns out he’s backing at least two of them, reports Bloomberg in an extensive investigative report. Keep your eyes on Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk, two secretive startups experimenting with personal transportation alternatives that would combine the features of self-driving cars and private planes. The fuel that would help these futuristic “cars” take flight? Electricity. (Bloomberg)
Starbucks is going even bigger on mobile apps. Long before Apple and Google introduced their own mobile payment services, Starbucks had it figured out.
In 2011, the retailer spent more than $1 million to gain the ability to accept payment (via QR code) from smartphone-toting customers. The gamble paid off: Today millions of people use the company’s mobile application to pay for their lattes and frappuccinos, and one in four of its transactions originates with a mobile device. Shockingly, one of the most successful mobile wallets comes from a coffee purveyor.
The dramatic shift in its customers’ habits is changing the way Starbucks thinks about its operations and enticing it to gild the lily with additional mobile services. But it’s proceeding with caution, reports Fortune senior writer Leena Rao. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
AT&T scores another deal with unionized workers by Aaron Pressman
The ultimate guide to Snapchat for adults by John Patrick Pullen
Logitech sees a bright future in videoconferencing by Heather Clancy
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky takes stand against discrimination
by Kia Kokalitcheva
Why Tesla has been in battery talks with Samsung for years
by Katie Fehrenbacher
ONE MORE THING
Millions of Twitter users may have been hacked. But the source of the stolen user names and passwords doesn’t appear to be the social network. (Fortune)
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.