The traditional Internet is increasingly threatened by splinternet, a term used to describe the fragmentation of the Internet in competing technospheres. Increasingly, nation states are imposing restrictions, increasing pressure on the Internet governance system set up decades ago.
Below are the key technological trends affecting the topic of splinternet, as identified by GlobalData.
The Great Wall of China
China’s Great Firewall is the clearest example of state-led Internet censorship. In the early 1990s, the Chinese government began developing an Internet control system that stopped citizens from linking to banned foreign websites – from Google, Facebook and Yahoo to The New York Times – and blocked politically sensitive internal content. preventing mass organizing online. And China does not want these capabilities to remain in China alone.
A 2021 report from the International Center for Cyberpolitics (ICPC) suggests that Beijing wants other countries to govern the Internet in the same way. It already exports digital infrastructure to more than 60 countries through its Belt One Road initiative, and Chinese companies export surveillance products to developing countries in Africa, South America and Central Asia.
New Internet Protocol (IP)
China is developing technology for a new top-down network aimed at rediscovering the Internet. Telecommunications giant Huawei, along with China Unicom and China Telecom, first proposed the idea of a new ITU architecture in 2019, sparking controversy among Western delegations. The proposal describes TCP / IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol) – the existing set of communication protocols used to connect network devices to the Internet – as “unstable” and “extremely inadequate” to meet the demands of the digital world by 2030. .
Critics are concerned that the new IP “will lead to more centralized top-down control over the Internet and potentially even its users, with security and human rights implications”, according to a 2021 Oxford Information Labs document.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Observation.
AI has become an area of intense rivalry between governments seeking technical and regulatory leadership in this area, with little global cooperation. This is particularly undesirable given the ability of AI to allow mass surveillance. An increasing number of nations are implementing advanced AI surveillance tools to monitor citizens. A 2019 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace found that at least 176 countries worldwide are actively using artificial intelligence technologies for surveillance purposes. This includes platforms for smart city and safe city, face recognition systems and the so-called smart police.
Observation is also at the heart of what Shoshana Zuboff defines in the Age of Observation as the exploitative nature of capitalism for observation. extracting consumer data from Silicon Valley giants to predict and shape behavior. In short, surveillance is increasingly embedded in splinternet, both in its undemocratic and democratic versions.
Today, ransomware attacks are being carried out on an unprecedented scale against national infrastructures, such as the US Colonial pipeline operator in 2021, the UK National Health Service (NHS) in 2017 and even the city of Baltimore. As the digital space splits into different visions of the Internet, cybersecurity cooperation to prevent cyberattacks is becoming more difficult.
The 2021 US-Russia Presidential Summit highlighted their differing approaches to cybersecurity dialogue. This dialogue has become critical for the United States as the country is plagued by ransomware attacks, including those originating in Russia, such as the SolarWinds attack or general Kremlin disinformation campaigns. Russia, on the other hand, seems more interested in gaining more sovereignty over its Internet than in setting rules for appropriate cyber behavior.
These different approaches were observed at the first UN Global Summit on Cybernorms in 2019. While the Russian-sponsored open-ended working group focused on reaching consensus on cyber sovereignty and non-interference in the political affairs of states, the US-backed government group Experts emphasized the creation of an open and free environment in cyberspace.
The blockchain has great potential for business, but the lack of uniform technical standards hinders its development. With a proposal for ultra-cheap server space, Beijing is trying to fill this gap by promoting its blockchain-based service network (BSN) and presenting it to developers around the world as capable of providing the necessary digital infrastructure. According to The Wall Street Journal, BSN boasted 20,000 users and thousands of blockchain-related projects in 2021.
The BSN project is in line with Beijing’s other efforts to influence next-generation technology and gain global impact. There is currently no centralized alternative to the state-level blockchain in China, and Beijing can decide who can use the technology in the first place, potentially acting as a goalkeeper.
Cryptocurrencies have been pulled into the arena of technonationalism, accelerated by the development of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). China is an example of this. The country actively supports the development of global CBDC standards. Beijing was one of the largest cryptocurrency markets until 2021, when the People’s Bank of China declared all virtual currency business illegal because it threatened the security of people’s assets.
While fighting private cryptocurrencies, Beijing began designing the digital yuan (or e-CNY), a state-sponsored digital currency. Geopolitics and the ongoing war in Ukraine are likely to accelerate China’s efforts – and those of other countries such as Russia – to build a parallel banking system and a CBDC-based trading currency to replace current US-regulated payment systems.
Splinternet and Web3 – the idea of a new iteration of the Internet – have conflicting interests. Although both seek to change the current version of the Internet, the different dynamics of power between large technology companies, governments and end users will eventually lead to a clash of these two visions of the Internet. Web3 aims to decentralize networks, but provides more power at the fingertips of end users.
The development of decentralization technologies is a driving force for Web3. In particular, blockchain-based technologies such as cryptocurrencies, irreplaceable tokens (NFT), decentralized finance (DeFi) and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO) have contributed to the growing popularity of Web3 in recent years. However, many of them remain emerging technologies. As a result, the innovation of decentralization technologies will have to keep pace with top-down movements in order to restore the power dynamics of Web2.
This is an edited excerpt from Splinternet – case studies report prepared by GlobalData Thematic Research.