W3C TAG Ethical Web Principles

TPAC 2022


Hi, I’m Tess.

I’m from the TAG.

I’m here to tell you about the W3C TAG Ethical Web Principles document.

We’re chartered with stewardship of the Web architecture, and charged to document and build consensus around principles of Web architecture and to interpret and clarify these principles when necessary. (from https://www.w3.org/2001/tag/)

Published W3C TAG Ethical Web Principles on the Note track, intended to be elevated to a W3C Statement

Our vision is for a World Wide Web that is more inclusive, and more respectful of its users: a Web that supports truth better than falsehood, people more than profits, humanity rather than hate.

The AB’s draft Vision for the Web

Ἐν ἀρχῇ

a scan of TimBL’s original proposal for what became the world wide web.
Information Management: A Proposal, March 1989

It discusses the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems and derives a solution based on a distributed hypertext system.

Ibid., emphasis mine

Preservation of data is the ethical concern at the heart of archival science.

The Web has always been an ethical endeavor.

Tim’s tweet being displayed on the crowd at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.

This is for everyone #london2012 #oneweb #openingceremony @webfoundation @w3c

TimBL, 27 July 2012 (picture by Nick Webb)
Ethical Web Principle 2.1

There is one web

This is for everyone. Not just for everyone to consume, but for everyone to make.

Jeremy Keith, 6 August 2021
Ethical Web Principle 2.10

The web is transparent (AKA the "View Source" principle)

[U]sers want control over the look of HTML documents - and should be afforded the means[.]

Chris Lilley, 31 May 1994
Ethical Web Principle 2.12

People should be able to render web content as they want

In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors over specifiers over theoretical purity.

HTML Design Principles §3.2. Priority of Constituencies, 26 November 2007

If a trade-off needs to be made, always put user needs above all.[…] The internet is for end users: any change made to the web platform has the potential to affect vast numbers of people, and may have a profound impact on any person’s life.

Web Platform Design Principles §1.1 Put user needs first, 24 August 2022

Horizontal review

We have encoded several major areas of ethical concern into our Process via horizontal review:

Design features to be accessible to users with disabilities. Access by everyone regardless of ability is essential.

HTML Design Principles §5.3. Accessibility, 26 November 2007

I think that it is essential for multilingual documents where character sets might be changed even on the same line.

Vitaly Motyakov, 1994, as quoted by Dan Connolly

Enable publication in all world languages.

HTML Design Principles §5.2. Support World Languages, 26 November 2007
Ethical Web Principle 2.4

The web is for all people

Ensure that features work with the security model of the web.

HTML Design Principles §3.3. Secure By Design, 26 November 2007
Ethical Web Principle 2.5

Security and privacy are essential

Features should, when possible, work across different platforms, devices, and media.

HTML Design Principles §5.1. Media Independence, 26 November 2007
Ethical Web Principle 2.11

The web is multi-browser, multi-OS and multi-device

Challenges facing us

[The] internet economy [is built] on the back of defunding high-cost, quality content in order to subsidise a stream of low-cost, largely low-quality, often misinformation, conspiracy, or hate garbage.

Ibid., emphasis mine

[It] has become increasingly clear to me that tech and the internet as they operate today are causing structural damage to our collective institutions that runs deeper than seems to be understood.

Robin Berjon, 26 June 2021, emphasis mine

I define surveillance capitalism as the unilateral claiming of private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data.[…] We rushed to the internet expecting empowerment, the democratization of knowledge, and help with real problems, but surveillance capitalism really was just too lucrative to resist.

Shoshana Zuboff, 4 March 2019, emphasis mine
Ethical Web Principles 2.3, 2.6, 2.7, and 2.8

The web must support healthy community and debate

The web must enable freedom of expression

The web must make it possible for people to verify the information they see

The web must enhance individuals’ control and power

The Web, the Internet, and humanity itself will not have a future if we don’t address the climate catastrophe facing the world today.

Ethical Web Principle 2.9

The web must be an environmentally sustainable platform


Ethical Web Principle 2.2

The web should not cause harm to society