Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, made a prediction in September 2018 that the internet will split in two – one part being led by China and the other by the United States. The reasoning behind this involves China’s active monitoring of all internet activities, as well as technological products and services from the country. Other reasons include a different leadership regime, controls and censorship.
Although it's just speculation, the splinternet phenomenon has been around since the 1990s. Also known as cyber-balkanization, the concept is slowly taking root as governments seek to fence off their internet to create national internets.
How Realistic is Splinternet?
The United States has maintained dominance over the internet since its inception and going public. But in the modern digital landscape, rules and regulations are expected to curve the global internet into smaller networks. The idea is being driven by nationalism as well as concerns surrounding digital colonization and privacy issues.
China is one country known to be taking steps to compartmentalize the internet through its Great Firewall. Other countries that have taken steps to control domestic access to the internet include Russia and Iran. Europe is also taking steps toward reducing U.S. dominance by increasing regulations that require data localization. They have facilitates this with the 2018 introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In the United States, there is a drive to increase internet fragmentation to reduce the domination of large companies. This is because of the need to increase personal data protection and reduce data control by large companies. With the world becoming more global, we continue to see cases of large companies like Facebook or Apple having more influence as well as centralized power.
Though a small fraction of the internet interactions, this provides a good example of the splintering. With such fragmentation of the internet increasing, it’s bound to have an effect on economic interests.
How a Split Internet Would Affect Businesses
Data has become a critical resource, from influencing purchasing decisions, behavior dynamics, health and other aspects. But with the changing internet landscape, businesses could be affected in one way or another. Businesses have had an easy time operating in a standardized web. But with the unity of the internet shattered, they would have to adjust their planning and metrics to fit into the new environment. For instance, due to China’s domestic internet control, it’s impossible for some companies in the United States to carry out business operations in China.
This situation presents a challenge for businesses – and especially those whose operations are purely internet based. Increased regulation means disruption of operations.
For small companies expanding to other countries, it would be difficult due to the overhead costs of compliance to various regional regulations. As a business, failing to comply with the laws of a different region would subject it to hefty fines.
Whether this is going to be a reality or not, the fact is there are big changes happening on the internet. The days of an open internet are dwindling with different countries and companies erecting digital walls on the internet every other day.
Unless we have a new set of global rules that enhance openness and public interest, then businesses and consumers will have to navigate complex laws and regulations that will not only affect the economy, but also disrupt seamless communication.
Since data today plays a big role in the digital economy, businesses can’t afford to ignore the possibility of a splinternet. As a business owner, you need to stay steps ahead as it would be a challenge connecting with your customers when caught up in the changes.
Businesses need to know how to follow consumers to new environments – and this could mean a bigger budget is required for development and testing different markets. Given that technological changes happen gradually, it’s advisable to keep tabs on tech trends and adjust accordingly.