This document is a draft TAG Finding. It does not contain any normative content.
The web should be a platform that helps people and provides a net positive social benefit. As we continue to evolve the web platform, we must therefore consider the ethical consequences of our work. The following document sets out ethical principles that will drive the TAG's continuing work in this direction.
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 the 30 years since development of the web began, it has become clear that the web platform can often be used in ways that subvert that mission. Furthermore, web technologies can be used to cause harm, which is not in keeping with the spirit of this social mission. The web should be a platform that helps people and provides a net positive social benefit. As we continue to evolve the web platform, we must therefore consider the ethical implications of our work. The web must be for good.
The architecture of the browser-based web is built from a user agent, the browser, that represents the needs of its users and works with application developers to deliver against them. This lends itself well towards this more ethical approach by allowing the person using the web to choose a browser 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. And we need to promote ethical thinking across the web industry to reinforce this approach.
The purpose of this document is to inform TAG review of new specifications and to inform other documents such as the Design Principles, Security & Privacy Self-Review or other similar checklists and sets of principles used by specification authors and editors. It also serves to raise awareness of the ethical responsibilities of web makers.
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 vulnerable people. We will prioritise potential benefits for users over potential benefits to web developers, in line with the priority of constituencies from the HTML Design Principles.
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, virtual and offline harassment, and building communities for doxxing 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.
We will build internationalization and localization capabilities into our specs and websites. We must make our websites accessible for people with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. We must build for users on low bandwidth networks and low specification equipment.
We will write specs and build platforms in line with our responsibility to our users, knowing that we are making decisions that change their ability to protect 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 our users understand what they are risking in using our services.
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).
We have a responsibility to build web technologies to counter misinformation, allowing information sources to be traceable and facts to be checkable. The concept of origin and source is core to the web's security model. We will make sure the new web technologies we create do not work against this architectural principle.
The web should empower the people using it, ahead of empowering service and software developers. We will create web technologies and platforms that can't manipulate our users, complicate isolation or encourage addictive behaviors.
The web, as a whole, is a big consumer of power. New web technologies should not make this situation worse. We will consider power consumption when we introduce new technologies to the web.
The web was built on a "view source" principle, currently realised 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. We expect that content provided by accessing a URL should yield a thematically consistent experience when the user is accessing it from different devices. The constant competition and variety of choices for our users that come from having multiple interoperable implementations means the web ecosystem is constantly improving.
For example, users should be able to install style sheets, assistive browser extensions, and blockers of unwanted content or scripts or autoplayed videos. Through technologies such as browser extensions, people must continue to be able to change web pages according to their needs. We will build platforms and write specs that respect the user's authority, and will create user agents to represent those preferences on the user's behalf.