Four competing Ideologies of the Internet & a Spoiler
The Virtual Landscape is becoming polarized
Regulation of data on the Internet has become a tricky issue as there is no consensus between the nations on the flow of Gigabytes of transactional data between the physical & virtual borders. This flow of data, much of which is personal in nature depends on what networks it passes through. Also, in this tech-driven economy, the benefits a country can reap from e-commerce depends on what the Internet is able to achieve for them & what it ought to be doing in the future.
Most countries have competing visions in this regard. These issues were discussed in detail in a recent paper by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). The report establishes the existence of Four Internets defined by the influence and the geopolitical support they receive from global actors. The hypothesis doesn’t really conclude that the Internet is actually physically fragmented, but that these four internet ideologies co-exist playing a game of push & pull on each other.
1. Silicon Valley’s Open Internet
This cherished western model is driven by technology, champions net-neutrality & freedom of speech with respect for the users' privacy. This type of Internet boasts of technical solutions to problems avoiding political influence and undue regulatory pressure.
The net-neutrality is the biggest sticking point for this Internet — which avoids discrimination on the flow of data based on different types of packets of information. The current U.S government repealed the 2015 Open Internet Order in 2018, which has become a huge issue of contention between 20 different States & the Federal government.
Engineers, Internet businesses & VoIP services all support net neutrality claiming it gives unrestricted access of content to users & improves network efficiency without the danger of throttling down a certain kind of content.
2. Beijing’s Authoritative Internet
The Chinese version of the Internet has provided the technological edge to its authoritative rule in the country. China has a crucial advantage with the launch of economic projects like the Belt & Road initiative, connecting Eurasia with mainland China, which might as well provide the foundation of promoting its model of the Internet in the future.
China is also using its Internet model to promote its homegrown tech companies like Tencent, Huawei, Alibaba & Baidu which are direct competitors to American tech giants Google, Amazon & Apple. With the majority of the unconnected global population residing in rural China & Africa — both places where it has a strong presence gives it a unique advantage of promoting a censored version of the Chinese Internet.
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3. Brussels’ Bourgeois Internet
Europe’s political mindset is a little different from the liberal values that define American culture. Europeans have learned the lesson that hard way that peace, integration & cohesion is the answer to prosperity. At the same time, they believe there should be some rules & regulations governing every sphere of the society, including cyberspace to protect the civilized bourgeois.
Europe is a leader in data protection with its landmark GDPR regulations enforced last year. The courts have also been increasingly regulating internet companies fined heavily for antitrust practices. Online freedom is encouraged under this model but it has to follow a moral code — no trolling, respecting others’ privacy, etc. Critics, however, term this model as a major roadblock to free-spirited innovation.
4. Washington DC’s Commercial Internet
Ironically, another version of the Internet in the form of Washington DC’s Commercial version has emerged in the United States, which directly contradicts the Silicon valley model. With the unprecedented polarization in the American politics that has taken shape since the 2016 elections, Republicans & President Trump, in particular, are at loggerheads with liberal Silicon valley technopreneurs.
The basis of the Silicon valley/DC internet split is rooted in divergent interests. While the former focuses on the public, the latter leverages the interests of private actors, arguing that large profits validate their point of public interest being served by these self-interested actors.
Also, free speech which is granted by the U.S constitution’s first amendment is a highly debatable topic in this context. Divergent legal interpretations have muddied the water even further with positive interpretation supporting net neutrality under the previous regime, while a negative interpretation championed by Republications favors private property interests.
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5. Moscow mule model
The polarization in the United States & the EU has provided an opportunity to state actors like Russia to advance their own nefarious agenda. Come to think of it many nations indulge in this practice. Exploiting these differences and with little regard for the international order, they engage in automating the spread of garbage. No wonder “Fake news” has become so common these days. And who can forget the affair of Russia’s meddling in the U.S elections?
In fact, Facebook & Twitter recently announced that they disrupted one such “disinformation” coordinated attack by Russia, Venezuela, and Iran. The Russian spoiler model seems to be set around one-point agenda of sowing mistrust & division. Russia is already taking steps to test the independence of its model by routing all the internet traffic via its regulator Roskomnadzor.
The report makes a point that just because the Internet is not physically in anybody’s control, homogeneity can’t be assumed. There might actually be many more Internets in the future based on different ideals, vision & backed by influential support.
With aggressive nationalist movements taking root across the globe, it is quite possible that these competing visions of the Internet are used to gather political power, gain recognition and build like-minded alliances. Tech warfare is here…