Back in October 2018 The New York Times published an editorial on the ‘balkanisation’ of the internet.
There’s a world of difference between the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, known commonly as G.D.P.R., and China’s technologically enforced censorship regime, often dubbed “the Great Firewall.” But all three spheres — Europe, America and China — are generating sets of rules, regulations and norms that are beginning to rub up against one another. What’s more, the actual physical location of data has increasingly become separated by region, with data confined to data centers inside the borders of countries with data localization laws.The New York Times
Interestingly, what we’re seeing now with the mooted banning/acquisition of TikTok shows that social networks are now important for state-level actors from a surveillance point of view.
Telegram, the chat app, is run by two brothers. One of them, Pavel Durov, is an intelligent and informed commentator on these events. Yesterday, he stated the following:
[T]he US move against TikTok is setting a dangerous precedent that may eventually kill the internet as a truly global network (or what is left of it). Before the US-TikTok saga, only autocratic countries like Iran, China or Russia were known for bullying tech companies into selling parts of their businesses to investors with close ties to their governments. It’s not surprising, for example, that Uber had to sell both their Russian and Chinese branches to local players.Pavel Durov
What we’re witnessing is the slow eclipse of the USA by China as the dominant world power. Under the radar, China invests huge amounts of money in infrastructure projects in Africa and other developing areas. But it’s not a democratic nation, meaning that western companies face state interference in their attempts to penetrate the Chinese market.
It looks like the USA is trying to play China at their own game. I can’t see them being successful.
Authoritarian leaders all over the world are already using the TikTok case as justification in their attempts to carve out a piece of the global internet for themselves. Soon, every big country is likely to use “national security” as a pretext to fracture international tech companies. And ironically, it’s the US companies like Facebook or Google that are likely to lose the most from the fallout.Pavel Durov
I couldn’t care about the fortunes of huge Silicon Valley companies. What I am interested in, though, is the future of the open web. Sadly, I just can’t see how, now that pretty much everyone is online, the current political situation will allow for unfettered global competition. Data, after all, is the new oil.
Back to The New York Times editorial, and their best (pre-pandemic) outlook from 2018 didn’t exactly look rosy:
Yet even the best possible version of the disaggregated web has serious — though still uncertain — implications for a global future: What sorts of ideas and speech will become bounded by borders? What will an increasingly disconnected world do to the spread of innovation and to scientific progress? What will consumer protections around privacy and security look like as the internets diverge? And would the partitioning of the internet precipitate a slowing, or even a reversal, of globalization?The New York Times
Imagine that. We may have already lived through the golden age of the internet.
This post is Day 24 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
I host my websites through Reclaim Hosting. I’ve been with them for a few years now, ever since they were known as ‘Hippie Hosting’ and an offshoot of the amazing work done by Jim Groom and team at the University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies.
Companies often talk about their commitment to customer service, but I’ve never known anything like that which receive from Reclaim Hosting. It’s insane. For example, in the last six months, amongst other things, they’ve:
- Responded within a minute to a query about my wiki being down, and had fixed it for me within five minutes.
- Worked with me to rectify a persistent spamming problem on my sites (that was my fault, not there’s)
- Migrated my sites from US servers to ones based in the EU within 24 hours of me tweeting that I’d like them to do so.
On top of that, they charge me a very low price. I’m a huge fan, as you can tell.
The last of the bullet points is an important one as President Trump continues to rip up the good work carried out by his predecessors. For example, earlier this month, The Register reported on a joint letter sent by Human Rights watch and the ACLU which outlines in detail how Trump’s executive orders are underming the US-EU Privacy Shield. Bloomberg reckons that the EU are ready to pull out of it.
It’s 2017, so it seems strange to be talking about things that seemed more important in the early days of the web, such as where your server is located. But, of course, given the nationalist turn we’ve taken in the west, these things matter.
They matter because he location of your server is still of vital importance, despite recent protestations, that data in transit through the US makes it subject to US law. What you put on your own web space isn’t just the front end stuff that everyone sees, it’s the backend stuff as well — family photos, private emails, and the like.
Some people have asked why I’ve chosen to host my data in Germany, rather than in the UK. Well, for a start, I still consider myself as more European than British, despite ‘Brexit’. Second, Germany has stronger privacy laws than the UK (and certainly the US). Finally, and more pragmatically, it’s the EU option offered by Reclaim Hosting (mainly, I believe, because Digital Ocean offer block storage in that zone)
I perhaps spend more time thinking about these things than most, but that’s because it’s something I deem important. Ironically, most of my readers are in the US, so this move actually adds a few milliseconds to their page load times. Sorry about that…
Image CC BY Jeff Ddevjet
I’ve seen plenty of weak signals over the past few months/years about people taking time to unplug for a day at the weekend. Some people do it on Saturdays, others on Sundays. I think I’d prefer Saturdays but, realistically, it’s the day I get my newsletter written (which then goes out Sunday morning UK time).
So this week I tried a ‘screen-free Sunday’. Well, kind of. The fact that I’m typing this via my laptop demonstrates my lack of commitment to the letter of the self-imposed law. But the spirit of it was there at least. From around 10pm last night until 7.30pm tonight I didn’t use screens. So no playing FIFA15 with my son; no helping my daughter with the CBeebies app; no checking my Twitter timeline; and I couldn’t “just look up” for my wife the gym opening hours.
Things I’ve done over the past 24 hours I haven’t done for a while:
- Written in my dead-tree diary with a pen
- Studied an Ordnance Survey Map closely
- Visited an historic monument with the family on the spur of the moment
It’s crazy to think how entwined interactive screens are with our everyday lives. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing. It’s just a fact. So I’m going to try and take 24 hours off screens every week. As with this weekend, that will probably mean turning my laptop(s) and mobile phone off at some point during Saturday evening and not turning them on again until Sunday evening.
Do you go screen-free at certain times? Have you found it helpful? How?
Image CC BY-NC Ashley Brown