Don’t expect the WWW moniker to vanish – but after 30 years, the internet is no longer about free communication around the world. Instead, it has become the RWW – the Regional Watching Web.
Sometime last year, I read an article describing how, in the future, the internet would likely break up into a few larger chunks such as China or Russia with a couple smaller bits cut out for good measure like Turkey. An interesting read but a bit too futuristic for my tastes, so I went on to different themes such as botnets and updates.
Then I realized early this year – that time is now — and I can’t find that article again. But viewed either on a country-by-country basis or from the perspective of technical possibility, major changes are afoot. Here are four ways the web is getting regionalized:
It’s a small world playground
The Great (Internet) Wall of China is nothing new. A number of apps and themes are verboten inside the country. Whether you are looking for info on Winnie the Pooh or Tienanmen Square, your search results are going to be filtered and perhaps monitored. Attempts to use a VPN to circumvent these restrictions can bring the user into legal problems. Besides, VPNs not on the approved list are generally shut down when they get to a certain user level. But there is really no need for the Chinese with no deep political or religious inclinations to even try to breach the walls to reach the rest of the world. China has a number of apps which parallel elements of Facebook or Twitter such as Sina Weibo, and Renren – even Youku for those YouTube style videos.
Protection of private data
While the GDPR may do great things for the privacy of EU residents, it does have a negative impact on their access to world information. A number of US publications, afraid of running afoul of the GDPR requirements on handling personal data, simply shut out all visitors from the EU. A few of the more enlightened ones like the Washington Post have a separate tracking system for EU visitors. Since the USA is generally far behind the EU countries for any protection of private data, these restrictions are one way at this time.
Is that copyrighted material?
The internet used to be a “Wild West” – with minimal protection of copyrights, content, and trademarks. But now the pendulum is swinging the other direction. If approved, the new EU trademark legislation – in particular Article 11 and 13 – will reduce the pool of available information by limiting the abilities of platforms to post links and mandating the use of filters to keep potentially copyright violations from even being posted in the first place.
Just turn the volume down (to an acceptable level)
The internet pipeline of information is vulnerable – and the various social media channels on it – to being simply shut off as the regime in power desires. This is particularly an issue in smaller countries such as Turkey or Venezuela where there are limited global connections. This makes shutting down Twitter or Wikipedia easier. It also can cover a range of technical “issues” that disrupt connectivity during an opponent’s speech. While the new Russian and Venezuelan attempts to restrict negative comments or give the government greater oversight of permissible activities may seem laughable, they might not be for long.