The Different Internet Models in China and the Rest of the World
November 30, 2018The Internet we know and use everyday started as a simple channel for the U.S. Defense Department to exchange scientific data during the 60s. Now the Internet has grown into a worldwide phenomenon with over 4 billion active users, all of which contribute to its power with the creation of new websites, the launch of apps and tools, and new information posted on social media platforms. These initiatives have helped maintain the connection between people, regardless of the corners of the world these users come from.
It's no secret that one of the advantages provided by the Internet comes from the extraordinary capacity to ensure a network of networks, allowing us an invariable exchange of information on a global scale. This exchange can happen via instant messages, tweets, posts, or articles; with all the possibilities integrated in this phenomenon, the Internet has certainly grown to be the world's most popular means of communication.
The Gap between China and the Rest of the WorldDespite the impact felt in most countries, the previously described scenario portraying the Internet as a tool of expression and information is not shared by a relevant portion of the world. According to former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, two decades from now, the Internet might be divided into two completely opposite models.
In a closed-door interview with the CNBC network, Schmidt stated that by 2028 the Internet we know (the North American model) will go through a major bifurcation with the restricted network developed by China.
It's true that China has seen an exponential growth in technology and innovations during the last few years, becoming one of the world's digital leaders. According to experts, in 2012 the country already was the second most successful Venture Capital core worldwide, second only to the U.S.
The Asian nation has undertaken the task of creating their own products, meant to favor their customs, all while competing against the technology from the U.S. Statistics from the World Intellectual Property Organization show an upsurge of creative minds within the country and, according to a research performed by them in 2017, China became the main driver of innovative growth, with an increase of 18% in their patent applications. This percentage shows a relentless resolve aimed at full technological independence.
China's Alternate InternetMany people are already aware of China's ongoing process to step away from the traditional Internet model. Thanks to an exclusive network managed by the communist government for the citizens' use, there are a lot of restrictions in place. This model has platforms and domains that are unavailable or simply too slow to access.
It's because of these singularities that Google, the most popular search engine in the world, has failed to maintain its influence within the Asian country. Meanwhile, China developed its own search engine (Baidu), integrating a file hosting service, a translator, and other similar features to those provided by Google. China's search engine is responsible for sustaining all the essential online resources required by their population in today's world.
The rejection and replacement of all traditional features isn't limited to a single search engine. Instant messaging apps and even social media platforms also play a large role in the separation the Chines have envisioned.
Neither Twitter, Facebook, nor YouTube are part of the main social platforms in China; there are surrogate services created to replace each of them. Weibo, for instance, has a lot of similarities with Twitter and Facebook, regarding content and technical features. It operates as a social platform for friends to connect and for the Asian community to share content with each other.
In the same manner, some music streaming apps like Youku and Xiami accomplish many of the functions YouTube was created to fulfill, while the popular and controversial WeChat represents an alternative to WhatsApp. The Asian instant messaging app caused a stir because of the censorship performed over certain topics, phrases, or words, all of which are also forbidden by China's government.
The Future Internet Models: China and the U.S.According to Eric Schmidt' statements, China's efforts carry a big potential to make this separation a reality within 10 years. This is a plan that might be complemented by some of the country's additional proposals, like the Belt and Road Initiative (a project to bind Europe, South-Oriental, Central Asia, and the Middle East).
Even though this initiative entails the union of 60 countries under China's economic model, Schmidt warns about the chances of this project expanding China's principles of content regulation to other countries, ultimately integrating them to the Chinese Internet model. Countries would have to sacrifice part of their digital freedom in exchange for other benefits and a bigger barrier would emerge to separate eastern and western Internet.
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