The web should be a platform that helps people and provides a positive social benefit. As we continue to evolve the web platform, we must therefore consider the consequences of our work. The following document sets out ethical principles that will drive the W3C's continuing work in this direction.
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The web should empower an equitable, informed and interconnected society. It has been, and should continue to be, designed to enable communication and knowledge-sharing for everyone. In order for the web to continue to be beneficial to society, we need to consider the ethical implications of our work when we build web technologies, applications, and sites.
The architecture of the web is designed with the notion of different classes of application that retrieve and process content, and represent the needs of the application's users. This includes web browsers, web-hosted applications such as search engines, and software that acts on web resources. This lends itself well towards empowering people by allowing them to choose the browser, search engine, or other application that best meets their needs (for example, with strong privacy protections).
The web should also support human rights, dignity and personal agency. We need to put internationally recognized human rights at the core of the web platform [UDHR]. We can reinforce this approach by promoting ethical thinking across the web industry.
The principles in this document are deliberately unordered, and many are interconnected with each other. They are intended to be read together, rather than each in isolation, and to collectively support a web that is beneficial for society. When the effects of upholding one principle may diminish the efficacy of another principle, the benefits and tradeoffs need to be carefully balanced. It is important to consider the context in which the technology is being applied, the expected audience(s) for the technology, who the technology benefits and who it may disadvantage, and any power dynamics involved (see also the priority of constituencies).
This is a statement of the ethical principles of the W3C community. Spec developers, authors and reviewers can use it to guide their thinking. In particular, the purpose of this document is to inform wide review of new charters, new specifications, and candidate additions to published recommendations. For actionable guidance applicable to spec editors, site authors, and others designing and building parts of the web platform, see the Web Platform Design Principles, Self-Review Questionnaire: Security and Privacy, the Privacy Principles, and TAG Findings.
When we are adding new web technologies and platforms, we will build them to cross regional and national boundaries. People in one location should be able to view web pages from anywhere that is connected to the web.
When we are adding a feature or technology to the web, we will consider what harm it could do to society or groups, especially to vulnerable people. We will prioritize potential benefits for web users over potential benefits to web developers, content providers, user agents, advertisers or others in the ecosystem, in line with the priority of constituencies. We will ensure the requirements and views of marginalized communities and underrepresented groups are heard and respected. We will build new web technologies in a collaborative manner according to open processes (for example, the W3C process), and adhering to codes of conduct (such as the W3C Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct).
We are building technologies and platforms for distributing ideas, for virtual interaction, and for mass collaboration on any topic. While those tools can be used for good, they can also be used for spreading misinformation, revealing private personal information (doxing), harassment, and persecution. We will consider these risks in the work we do, and will build web technologies and platforms that respect individuals' rights and provide features to empower them against dangers like these.
People should not need a high level of technical literacy to use the web. Web platform technologies should behave consistently and intuitively. We will build internationalization and localization capabilities into our specifications and websites. We will accommodate people on low bandwidth networks and with low specification equipment. The web platform and the tools we use to create it must be accessible to people with disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. Anyone should be able to meaningfully participate in the creation of specifications, user agents, and content, and the platform should enable a fully accessible end user experience.
When we add features to the web platform, we are making decisions that impact peoples' ability to control their personal data. This data includes their conversations, their financial transactions and how they live their lives. We will start by creating web technologies that create as few risks as possible, and will make sure people understand what risks they are taking when they use the web.
We will create web technologies and platforms that encourage free expression, where that does not contravene other human rights. Our work should not enable state censorship, surveillance or other practices that seek to limit this freedom. This principle must be balanced with respect for other human rights, and does not imply that individual services on the web must therefore support all speech. (For example: hate speech, harassment or abuse may reasonably be denied a platform).
Society relies on the integrity of public information. We have a responsibility to build web technologies to counter misinformation, and to maintain the integrity of information for public good. The public needs verifiable source and context information to recognize trustworthy web publishers and content. The concept of origin and its relationship with information sources are core to the web's security model.
We recognize that web technologies can be used to manipulate and deceive people, complicate isolation, and encourage addictive behaviors. We seek to mitigate against these potential abuses and patterns when creating new technologies and platforms, and avoid introducing technologies that increase the chance of people being harmed in this way. We aim to reduce centralization in web architecture, minimizing single points of failure and single points of control. We will also build web technologies for individual developers as well for developers at large companies and organizations. The web should enable do-it-yourself developers.
Web technologies may have overall positive environmental impacts as well as negative impacts, and these can change over time and vary geographically as both web and environmental technologies develop. We will endeavor not to do further harm to the environment when we introduce new technologies to the web, and keep in mind that people most affected by the environmental consequences of new technologies may not be those who benefit from the features introduced. This includes, but is not limited to, lowering carbon emissions by minimizing data storage and processing requirements, as well as reducing electronic waste by maximizing the lifespan of physical devices through backwards compatibility.
The web was built on a "view source" principle, currently realized through robust developer tools built into many browsers. We will always make sure it is possible to determine how a web application was built and how the code works. Furthermore, we will always make sure it is possible to audit and inspect web applications and underlying software for security, privacy or other considerations.
We will not create web technologies that encourage the creation of websites that work only in one browser, or only on particular hardware. We expect that content provided by accessing a URL should yield a thematically consistent experience when someone is accessing it from different devices. The existence of multiple interoperable implementations enables competition, and thus a variety of choices for web users.
People must be able to change web pages according to their needs. For example, people should be able to install style sheets, assistive browser extensions, and blockers of unwanted content or scripts or auto-played videos. We will build features and write specifications that respect peoples' agency, and will create user agents to represent those preferences on the web user's behalf.
The TAG would like to thank the following people for their help, input and feedback during the conceptualization and ongoing development of this document: Tantek Çelik (Mozilla), Oluwatomisin Niyi-Awosusi, Joanna J. Bryson (Professor of Ethics and Technology, Centre for Digital Governance, Hertie School), Wendy Seltzer.