The Internet continues to fragment

We tend to think of “the Internet” as a single thing, but, in reality, it has been fragmenting for a while (China is the biggest example, where the Internet inside the country looks very different than the one outside, but there are lots of similar fractures, both big and small, e.g., back in 2014 when Russia convinced Facebook to block the pages of one of Putin’s most vocal critics). GU Holdings, a Google subsidiary, has been trying for years to build better connectivity to Asia, with plans for trans-Pacific fiber-optic cables between the U.S. and Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines. So far, those plans have been blocked by the U.S. government, which has seen a direct connection to China (Hong Kong) as a national security threat. They finally approved GU’s plans to connect to Taiwan this week, but that came with a bunch of restrictions, including both a moratorium on connecting to Hong Kong and an “extensive set of national security constraints”. Letting China own one end of a data pipe that goes directly to the U.S. may, in fact, have national security implications; but there’s a broader issue here. With data sovereignty rules in Europe, Russia, and China requiring tech companies to provide unique services tailored to each region’s legal requirements, are we really making the Internet(s) better?

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