At A Glance – Splinternet

A fractured, factionalised internet

Also known as cyber or internet balkanisation, the splinternet refers to the increasingly fractured nature of the internet, with individual pockets of cyberspace being controlled by authorities in line with geographical, economic or political factors.

There are many reasons why authorities – especially governments – might want to restrict their citizens’ access to the internet or develop their own internet infrastructures. Firstly, the internet, at its core, has roots in the US Department of Defense and still remains under American control. As the growth of the internet has led to its use for globalised, non military purposes, many people have come to question this centralised power in what is supposed to be a free and open system. Revelations of global surveillance programmes run through the internet (such as those disclosed by Edward Snowden) have raised fears that an unrestricted internet gives rise to national security threats. In addition, nations such as China heavily censor what their citizens can access through the internet, with President Xi Jinping supporting the concept of ‘internet sovereignty’ for every country.

Along with geopolitical factors, there are other reasons which explain the increasingly divided status of the internet. One is a difference in technology standards from one country to another, as individual nations pursue technological developments in slightly different ways. Perhaps another more well known element is commercial lock-in, where companies encourage consumers to use their products and services for all their computing, technological and internet needs. This has been seen with companies such as Apple, which has previously prevented iPhone owners from using Google products, and restricted applications that are available to download on its App Store. This gives rise to a more granular concept of the splinternet, with internet access defined and restricted at the level of individuals.

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