China’s Vision of a Censored Internet is Spreading

China is offering a new
vision of the internet, one which combines sweeping content curbs with uncompromising data controls. The idea is called Cybersovereignty and it’s already spreading
around the world. This is your Bloomberg QuickTake
on the new Cyber Cold War. Welcome! It’s the new millennium, and a simpler time for the internet. Western tech pioneers proclaim
it’s a borderless force for transparency and individual freedom. But fast forward to now and that’s being challenged
like never before. A massive cyber attack affecting nearly 50 million Facebook users. And it was my mistake, and I’m sorry. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched. You want to win a war,
you need weapons for that. And we could build them. There’s been a global backlash against Facebook, Google, WhatsApp. This backlash coincides with
the rise of the Chinese model. Today you have governments
from Russia to Southeast Asia saying, hang on, we get to
control content on the internet and at the same time
there is not an impediment to stunning economic growth. It’s an ideological coup and a rejection of the American internet
model, which promised to spur innovation and freedom. Now China is offering a different vision: both internet control and tech
innovation, and it has fans. Today, there would be a
growing number of people who would argue that controlling
the flow of information across the internet does not
actually impede innovation. The crux of the Chinese internet model is based around the nation state. Setting your own rules
for your own citizens that can’t be circumvented
by the internet. So very simply, they want to control what sort of content is
hosted on the internet that’s available to Chinese users and they want absolute
control over that content. So if they decide, for
instance, that they don’t want any references to the
Tiananmen Massacre from 1989, then they will scrub that out
of every website and every app within the country that
Chinese or consumers can see. And this controlled, moderated
version of the internet is spreading, especially
across Southeast Asia. Vietnam’s controversial version of the Chinese internet model
went into effect in 2019. It demands the data of Vietnamese users is kept in the country. Indonesia, Southeast
Asia’s largest economy, already requires data
to be stored locally. The Philippines has stepped up what critics call a media crackdown and one of the latest to
buy into the rationale is Thailand, which passed
a cyber security bill modeled on China’s. Southeast Asia is the testing
ground for Chinese ambitions. The region is home to more
than half a billion people whose internet economy
is expected to triple to 240 billion dollars by 2025. I think a lot of Chinese companies, and potentially Beijing itself, see Southeast Asia as the first step in expanding their influence globally but that’s when the digital
Cold War kind of differs from the Cold War we’re familiar with. In this case, I think
countries are adopting the Chinese style model
without necessarily subscribing to Beijing’s style of government
and/or Beijing’s agenda. China’s version of the
internet is appealing to other nations who want to control what their populations see and hear, but it doesn’t mean
China’s calling the shots. Instead it could create an
unprecedented bifurcation of the internet, effectively
ending our notion of a truly worldwide web, meaning what information
you can easily access would depend on where you are and what that government
decides you should know.

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